Sen. Lindsey Graham. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, is acknowledging the United States is “still struggling with testing on a large scale” as the administration readies a push to reopen the stagnant American economy.
Graham absolved the White House of blame for the testing shortfall, which has crippled the country’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus and pinpoint emerging hot spots for the disease. The number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. has plummeted over the past week, raising fresh questions about the Trump administration’s management of the outbreak.
The South Carolina senator’s concerns echo those of governors and businesses across the country, who have urged the federal government to do more to ensure there are enough test kits to meet the need. Health experts say it is not yet safe to lift the stringent social-distancing measures states have enacted until the widespread testing shortfalls are addressed.
“On what we need to do better, I think the key to me is testing. I can’t really blame the president, but we are struggling with testing on a large scale,” Graham said on “The View” on Thursday. “You can’t really go back to work until we have more tests that shows who has it and who doesn’t, and we’re beginning to turn the corner on that.”
Graham’s comments stand in stark contrast with Trump’s repeated praise of the U.S. testing system and the tests that he calls “the best of any country in the world.” Occasionally, the president has acknowledged shortcomings with the testing regimen, but he has more often sought to shift responsibility elsewhere.
Asked Wednesday, for instance, about the clamor from business leaders who believe ramped-up testing is needed to reopen their stores, Trump said it’s “what I want, too.” But he quickly emphasized that it was up to states to solve the problem.
“[W]e have great tests and we want the states to administer these tests for the most part, but we’re standing behind them. We have great tests. We’ve done more testing now than any country, as you know, in the world by far. We have the best tests of any country in the world. Nobody has the quality of tests.”
Just last week, Trump said wide-scale testing isn’t even necessary, though he mistakenly said in March that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.”
“What we’ll be doing in the very near future is going to certain areas of our country and do massive testing,” the president said at a White House briefing. “It’s not necessary, but it would be a good thing to have.”
When pressed further, Trump added: “We want to have it, and we’re going to see if we have it. Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes. We’re talking about 325 million people. And that’s not going to happen, as you can imagine. And no — it would never happen with anyone else either. Other countries do it, but they do it in a limited form. We’ll probably be the leader of the pack.”
It’s not clear whether the president is aware of how the federal drive to complete more tests has stalled.
The drop-off in testing among commercial labs, which POLITICO first reported earlier this week, could be the result of narrow testing criteria that prioritizes hospitalized patients, health care workers and others thought to be vulnerable to the virus. Other potential cases have also been turned away in part due to shortages of swabs used for testing.
Graham’s comments are a rare breach in the wall of support Trump has received from GOP senators, who have been largely hesitant to join Democrats in criticizing the president’s handling of the outbreak.
“I think everything we’ve done to this point has saved probably well over a million Americans from death from the virus, and I want to reopen the economy, but the key to that is testing,” Graham said.
David Lim contributed to this report.