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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Menendez warns against political criticisms as he defends NJ officials from Trump attack

Democrats tone down attacks against president amid pandemic

By Nikita Biryukov, April 02 2020 2:29 pm

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez warned against politically-motivated criticism amid the COVID-19 crisis shortly after he defended New Jersey officials from a Twitter attack mounted by President Donald Trump.

“It’s just not a time for criticizing,” Menendez said. “It’s a time for action, so we want to engage as positively as we can. The question was ‘are there complainers?’ These people are not complaining. They’re trying desperately to do whatever they can to help their citizens save lives. I’m going to say that. If that bothers anybody, I’m sorry, but it is the truth.”

The president and his administration have faced reproach over a coronavirus that critics say was slow to start and continues to lag as health care systems in New Jersey and elsewhere face life-threatening shortages in ventilators and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves.

Thursday morning, Trump, who initially downplayed the threat posed by a virus that has now killed more than 5,000 Americans, defended his administration’s response to the crisis, suggesting politics were driving the criticisms his administration has faced.

“Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being delivered directly to states and hospitals by the Federal Government. Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them,” Trump said on Twitter. “The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit.”

With at least 25,590 confirmed cases, New Jersey has been hit harder by the pandemic than every state in the nation, excepting New York, which has seen more than 48,000 of its residents contract COVID-19.

Menendez and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker softly censured Trump over some aspects of his response to the pandemic, citing specifically his administration’s shuttering of a federal pandemic response agency and delays in his invocation of the Defense Production Act, which can force American companies to manufacture ventilators and other sorely-needed equipment.

Still, those repudiations were a far cry from ones Democrats, the senators included, leveled at the president in the weeks and months preceding the pandemic.

Gov. Phil Murphy has similarly walked on eggshells around Trump of late, though he said he wasn’t doing so out of concern over federal officials withholding aid out of retaliation.

“I don’t think Jim Tedesco is a complainer. I don’t think Gov. Murphy is a complainer,” Menendez said. “I think they’re fighting for the people they represent, and they’re doing everything possible to work collaboratively, at the end of the day, to make sure that we save lives. That’s what we’re doing, all of us.”

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