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Romney slams Trump’s handling of pandemic, offers lecture on ‘the key to leadership’

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Senator Mitt Romney President Donald Trump’s initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic as not a “great moment in American leadership.”

The Utah Republican claimed the administration’s response to the crisis has not been admirable, though he avoided using the president’s name directly during a video chat with Georgetown University students on Tuesday.

“The speed of our response looked slow compared to other people. That first phase will not stand out as a great moment in American leadership,” Romney said of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We didn’t look real strong, and that’s kind of an understatement,” he added.

“We did not have the testing as fast as we could have or should have. We did not have the personal protective equipment we would have hoped to have,” Romney said. “I think part of that is just the recognition that in many cases American companies – multinational companies – are producing these products elsewhere, typically in China.”

“That’s just in terms of crisis management,” he added, “the willingness of the federal government to step in and coordinate everything from PPE to testing to repair of our hospital systems and so forth – none of those things really stood out as being great moments in American leadership.”

There is no love lost between Trump and Romney, who earned the rebuke of his GOP colleagues after voting for one of the two articles of impeachment against the president. Trump recently made it clear he had not forgotten Romney’s betrayal, as the lawmaker became only Senate Republican to not be appointed to the bipartisan coronavirus task force on reopening the economy.

“I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney,” Trump said at a White House briefing last week. “I don’t really want his advice.”

During the video chat Tuesday, Romney said he thought the U.S. handling of the pandemic was probably surprising to other nations.

“I think the world was a bit surprised by that as they think of us as the nation that first went to the moon and accomplished extraordinary things in the new economy,” he said. “And yet when it came to PPE and to testing and the speed of our response it looks slow relative to things like South Korea, Singapore, China, Germany and even Sweden.”

“I’m not blaming this administration,” Romney told the Georgetown University students in the talk, explaining that he learned a lot about crisis management during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts as well as running the 2002 Utah Olympics. He added that experience as president of a private equity firm and that he gained during his  2012 GOP presidential nomination all taught him about how to handle an emergency.

“It’s hard to say to all 50 governors,’ you guys all do your thing,’” Romney said. “I think the federal coordination has been less than my personal style.”

He also appeared to be critical of the advisers surrounding the president, saying he would have chosen “real experts in crisis management … people who have dealt with this more than I have.”

“The key to leadership is recognizing you’re not the smartest guy in the room,’ he added.

“In a setting like this I think it’s important for the people at the top to recognize that there are always people out there with more information,” he said. “You want to bring them in and divide responsibility and have them manage… with that we’re not where we ought to be.”

Romney was also critical of Trump’s decision to stop funding to the World Health Organization, insisting that although the organization is “not doing a great job,” it is in the interest of the U.S. to stay involved.

“It’s in America’s interests – in America’s selfish interests to be involved in writing the rules of the world,” he said.

“No I think the WHO are not doing a great job… but we should be more involved there not less,” Romney added. “We should be trying to get the institution to do a better job and make the world a better place.”

Frieda Powers

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