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During The Debate Pence Defends Administration's Pandemic Response

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Elsewhere in today's program, we heard a supporter of Biden and Harris, Representative Hakeem Jeffries. Now we bring in the national press secretary for the Trump-Pence campaign. Hogan Gidley, welcome back to the program.

HOGAN GIDLEY: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate the time.

INSKEEP: I want to pick up an unanswered question on the pandemic from last night. Susan Page, the moderator, asked, why is the per capita U.S. death toll higher in the U.S. than almost every wealthy nation? That's just number of dead by percentage of population. Her question was, why is that? Vice President Pence, in response, listed things the administration is doing, like the ban on flights to China. But he did not answer why he thinks the death toll is so high. Why is it so high?

GIDLEY: Well, the case fatality rate is one of the lowest. You can't pick and choose data here to try and drive a particular narrative. The fact is the coronavirus was unleashed on the world. It's hurt all countries in some form or fashion. It's been devastating here in this country. Two-hundred thousand-plus people are dead because we were lied to by China. We were lied to by the WHO. And you need information in times like this if you're going to actually stop a pandemic from moving through all of our states. We were not given that luxury, and neither was the rest of the world.

The United States is uniquely positioned because we do have different levels of freedom than other nations. We have different levels of population density than other nations. There are a lot of states, like New York, for example, that are very heavily populated that didn't shut down for seven days after the rest of the country did, seeding somewhere around 65% of the cases in this country at one point in time. So absolutely, it moved through this country in a tough way. But it's this administration that moved early and frequently to try and get a handle on...

INSKEEP: If I can - I gave you a little time to answer that question, and you did address some notions about why it would be. You talked about population density being different than some other nations. But Europe is pretty tightly populated, has some pretty large cities. And European nations, as a percentage of population, death rates are far lower. Could it be that they were more organized in their national response than the United States?

GIDLEY: No. Again, case fatality rates here are very low internationally.

INSKEEP: I know you keep saying case fatality rates are very low. What you're telling me is there are millions of millions of people who've been infected with coronavirus. I recognize there are lots of different stats. But what I'm talking about here is what moderator Susan Page put on the table, which is the number of dead people as a percentage of population.

GIDLEY: Right. And what we know is that if Joe Biden were president of the United States, that this situation would be much worse by his own admission. So let's be very clear about the (unintelligible)...

INSKEEP: Wait. Joe Biden admitted that the situation would be worse if he were president?

GIDLEY: Yes - because he - the plan he put forward - he hasn't pointed to one single thing he would have done differently than this administration except keep travel open from China and Europe.

INSKEEP: I...

GIDLEY: And thank you to Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, Dr. Hahn and Dr. Redfield, who all said that one move by the president saved countless lives in this country. Joe Biden said he would not have done that. In fact, he mocked the president, called it xenophobic, hysterical behavior for him to shut down travel. And if that one thing prevented the 2 1/2 million deaths that were predicted in this country, we know Joe Biden, by his own admission, would not have done that, meaning the situation would be much, much worse.

INSKEEP: Hasn't Joe Biden also said that he would promote the use of masks and encourage governors to impose mask mandates, which some governors have done and some governors have not? That is a substantial difference...

GIDLEY: Sure.

INSKEEP: ...From the president and appears to be grounded in science.

GIDLEY: Nope, no. It's no different - no different. In fact, 36 governors already have mask mandates in their state. It's unconstitutional to do it from the federal level. Joe Biden knows that. He's flip-flopped on masks now four or five times by my count. The president of the United States was talking about wearing masks on March 31. He issued the guidelines in connection with the CDC from the White House briefing room on April 3. It was a month and five days later before members of the mainstream media inside that briefing room all started wearing masks. They weren't concerned about this whatsoever. In fact, the way they tell it, it's as though they were ringing in the new year in January on the 1 with champagne and N95 masks when they weren't. The only questions I was getting when I was at the White House was about their au pairs and about their vacation. They didn't...

INSKEEP: OK. Stop for a second.

GIDLEY: ...Care about masks. This president was talking about masks...

INSKEEP: Let's - wait, wait, wait. Let's...

GIDLEY: ...When no one else was.

INSKEEP: Let's remember the media is not running for president at this time. I think you are correct that it took a while for people to recognize the efficacy of masks. Nevertheless, once the information was out there, the president was reluctant to wear a mask, was very skeptical of keeping lockdowns going a little while longer, tweeted things like liberate Michigan. He clearly has had a very different attitude about this pandemic than the vice - former vice president has.

GIDLEY: Well, those are two different - those are two different - Steve, those are two different issues. The mask issue, we now know...

INSKEEP: They all get to this question of freedom, however.

GIDLEY: Yeah, but - that's correct. But hold on. Nancy Pelosi is the one who doesn't wear masks when no one's looking, neither does Dianne Feinstein. And the ones like Ralph Northam, for example, or Keisha Lance Bottoms or Chris Cuomo - all the ones who swear by masks also got the virus. The point is, this is airborne. It's a very difficult thing to stop.

This president's leadership in connection with the CDC and with all of the entities of the federal government have worked to stop this in real time, restock a stockpile that was completely depleted by the previous administration, in part because of Biden's placation to China, but for other reasons as well. This president is the one who's taken leadership on it. And to try and conflate masks with the other topics of opening the country is foolhardy because the fact is, this country needs to be reopened. It just needs to be done in a safe manner, which is what the president has been talking about. And the long-term ramifications...

INSKEEP: Let me ask, Hogan Gidley - thank you...

GIDLEY: Hold on. The long-term ramifications of being shut down...

INSKEEP: No, no, no, no. This is - actually, I'm going to turn down...

GIDLEY: ...It's very devastating for our children.

INSKEEP: ...Your microphone for a moment, and we're going to move on to one other topic because we've just got a couple of minutes left. And I do want an opportunity to ask about one other thing here. It's the Green New Deal because there was conflicting - there were conflicting talking points about that last night. Vice President Pence accused Biden and Harris of supporting the Green New Deal. They've denied this. Now, the reality is Harris and Biden do support elements of the Green New Deal. They favor carbon-free electricity by 2035 - 2035. Let me just ask about the substance there. Is President Trump committed to do anything in particular to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, Hogan Gidley?

GIDLEY: Well, after we got out of the Paris climate accords, we were the only country in that agreement that actually saw a reduction in carbon emissions. And we did so by 30%. The ones who've remained in the deal all saw increases for the most part, so that whole thing was a scam to begin with. Second of all...

INSKEEP: We'll check facts on that, but go on.

GIDLEY: ...Let's go - let's go past the fact for a moment that the support of the Green New Deal was at issue for Kamala Harris and both and Vice President Joe Biden. She's a co-sponsor of it. I think she was the first co-sponsor of the deal. It's still on the website for Joe Biden.

INSKEEP: You're exactly right. But my question, sir, in the little time we have left is, is President Trump committed to do anything to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in coming years?

GIDLEY: Again, absolutely. The environmental standards of this president are to make sure that we have clean air, clean water. He's done so at every single turn. What you're trying to pretend (ph)...

INSKEEP: When he says clean air, does he include carbon in that? Because he doesn't seem to - he's a huge supporter of coal, for example.

GIDLEY: Well, first of all, fossil fuels run this world. So to pretend as though we're going to get rid of those is absolutely foolhardy. How do we work to make them cleaner? How do we work to make them more manageable, more efficient? And this president has done that. But to turn a blind eye to the fact that getting rid of, you know, energy production in this country would kill 10 1/2 million jobs in that sector is absolutely foolish. And that's something that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both want to do. Promising to ban fracking, for example, would kill hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state...

INSKEEP: About 10 seconds.

GIDLEY: ...Of Pennsylvania - billions of dollars. And that's something we cannot have happen in this country.

INSKEEP: Hogan Gidley, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much for taking the time this morning.

GIDLEY: Thanks so much.

INSKEEP: Hogan Gidley is the national press secretary for President Trump's campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF NYMANO AND PANDREZZ'S "EVENING ROUTINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.