Arizona deserves better than McSally’s pandemic performance

May 27, 2020 10:29 am

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally wears a mask depicting the Arizona state flag as she listens to testimony during a May 6 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Photo by Shawn Thew/Pool photo | Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally serves in an Arizona Senate seat that is hallowed ground, a seat made iconic by two giants of the Senate – Barry Goldwater and John McCain – in the course of 60-plus years of service. 

It’s not for me to suggest how McSally’s predecessors would have approached a global pandemic. But it’s hard to imagine either of these independent-minded figures would have chosen the path their appointed successor has: protecting President Trump at all costs, participating in his charade of avoiding responsibility and pretending that “the buck” stops in Beijing or anywhere but the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. 

The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona rises daily, as does the number of times Trump turns to a familiar script to divert attention from his own failures: the very president who now scapegoats China just months ago actually parroted Chinese propaganda over and over, instead of defending America from an insidious virus that has cost us lives and brought our economy to a halt. 

Surely, McSally knows better – and Arizona surely deserves better.

No mistake in the US response to COVID-19 bears the president’s fingerprints more than his mismanagement of the China front in the battle against a pandemic. From his early refusal to engage the Chinese government in the search for facts, to his failed travel ban, all the way through his labeling COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus,” Trump’s diplomatic malpractice has cost us time, lives, and jeopardized our economy – trading judgment for bluster at every turn. 

The story begins with the president’s confusing relationship with China itself, a ping pong match of flattery and flagellation that gave observers whiplash. A trade war without an exit strategy hurt states like Arizona over the last two years. It also slapped tariffs on protective equipment, including gloves and masks, which contributed to their scarcity when the U.S. needed them most.

But Trump’s race to a face-saving, cosmetic “Phase One” trade deal also came with a price. It was during the run-up to the Jan. 15 trade détente when Trump was most reluctant to challenge Chinese President Xi Jinping over his cover-up of the coronavirus. After the agreement was signed, and after the intelligence community warned Trump that the Chinese government was not being transparent, the president, eager to take a victory lap on trade, lavished extraordinary, undeserved praise on Xi for his handling of COVID-19. 

While his own White House aides worried that China barred World Health Organization expert delegations to study coronavirus, Trump went out of his way to tout Xi’s “efforts and transparency,” even expressing gratitude “on behalf of the American people.” 

McSally was silent.

Today, McSally supports Trump’s so-called China travel ban. But the ban did not stop the virus from becoming a pandemic here at home. It only took effect after 46 other countries imposed restrictions on China. It was leaky and ineffective: At least 430,000 people have arrived in the United States from China since January, and nearly 40,000 entered the U.S. after Trump announced his travel ban on Jan. 31. In fact, flights from China were still entering the United States as of May 11. 

A new Congressional report revealed that Trump’s hasty decisions prompted the mass exodus of Americans returning home from China, including those carrying the virus, and less than 10% of those travelers got screened upon entry at U.S. airports.

An independent-minded senator would be speaking the truth about these issues. A leading Republican strategist even advised all Republican senators up for re-election this year to stop defending Trump and instead bash China. 

Apparently, McSally only read half of the memo. She’s repeatedly praised Trump’s response to coronavirus and failed to say anything holding him accountable for letting Arizona down. Most curiously, McSally even praised the president for sending 100 ventilators to Arizona after Gov. Doug Ducey requested 5,000. 

It’s par for the course from a senator quick to take a joy ride on Air Force One for Trump’s surreal appearance at a Phoenix mask-making facility where Trump famously refused to wear a mask

Now, she’s even joined Senate Republican efforts to punish states, cities and towns, most directly harming teachers, police officers, firefighters and EMTs, the public service workers whose daily acts of service in crisis make our country great.  

All the rhetoric on China cannot paper over McSally’s failure to confront the failed leadership in Washington.

We need a conversation about how to effectively approach China, and we need an equally important conversation about how to combat COVID-19. At this time of global pandemic and economic catastrophe, Americans are desperate for our leaders to listen to the best advice of qualified experts, level with us, and do what’s right.  

For Martha McSally, by that standard, it’s three strikes and you’re out.

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David Wade
David Wade

David Wade spent two decades at the highest levels of the State Department, on Capitol Hill, and as an adviser to two presidential campaigns. Wade was chief of staff to Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the Department of State for more than two years. Prior to that, he served in the U.S. Senate as Kerry's chief of staff for five years.