Just Who Exactly Was 'Fiddling' as People Died, Madame Speaker?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., prepares the impeachment case against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) leveled a serious charge against President Donald Trump. She accused him of “fiddling” while people died of the coronavirus.


“As the president fiddles, people are dying,” Pelosi told CNN on Sunday. This accusation echoes the classic criticism of the Roman Emperor Nero, who is said to have “fiddled” as Rome burned during the Great Fire of 59 A.D.

Yet the accusation, in Pelosi’s case, is particularly ironic. President Trump has been giving public press conferences during the coronavirus crisis, almost every day. He acted quickly against the virus, creating a Coronavirus Task Force in late January and restricting travel to and from China. The president even sent two U.S. Navy hospital ships to two epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

Meanwhile, just last week, Pelosi and her fellow Democrats wasted precious time by blocking a bipartisan relief bill in the Senate while pushing an alternative bill in the House, one packed with their far-left Christmas wish list.

Although the House finally passed the bill on Friday and President Trump wasted no time in signing it later that day, Senate Democrats blocked that bill on Sunday and Monday, while House Democrats rushed their own liberal Christmas bill on Monday. Pelosi’s bill was jam-packed with pet projects like a slate of liberal election “reforms,” a $15/hour minimum wage, Green New Deal standards forcing airlines to report the carbon emissions for each flight, collective bargaining for unions, and more. Tragically, a few of these proposals — like funding for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts — made it into the final bill, ostensibly focused on providing relief during the coronavirus crisis.


Democrats treated this crisis as an opportunity and wasted precious time in order to push their pet projects. Indeed, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told lawmakers, “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” echoing former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who notoriously said, “You never let a serious crisis got to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

“We just watched in the last week 3.28 million people laid off,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared. “And yet for days, Democrats stalled this bill. How many people were laid off as the Democrats fought to change the election law or implement the Green New Deal?! How many parents lost sleep wondering how they’re going to make the payments for the next month?! How many small businesses sat around the kitchen table and had to make that decision they never had to before about laying their employees off — [employees] that are like family?”

Pelosi had claimed that her obstruction was a “jiu-jitsu” to change the bill. McCarthy called this claim an “outright lie. The fundamental portions of this bill have not changed since Sunday. Four months for unemployment was already decided on Sunday. The grants to keep employees hired on small business was already decided on Sunday.” Only the small pork measures, like Kennedy Center funding, were added due to Pelosi’s stalling.


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the Democrats’ bill for “changing the emissions standards on airplanes. Mr. President, what the hell do the emissions standards on airplanes have to do with thousands of people dying and millions of people out of work in the coronavirus epidemic?!”

“Don’t treat this bill like a partisan Christmas list,” Cruz added. He noted that he’d love to abolish the IRS, but he isn’t submitting amendments to every spending bill to get his pet project in there.

Republicans were far from alone in slamming the Democrats’ shenanigans. Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the principal architect of the Green New Deal, said, “I helped write the #GreenNewDeal and I think this is ridiculous. The tiny little emissions standard increase doesn’t even do anything meaningful to stave off climate change and gives the [Republicans] leverage to get rid of real help for working people. Solve the problem at hand.”


President Trump certainly has not been “fiddling” as people die and lose their jobs. Nancy Pelosi, however, has at the very least been “wrangling” as Americans suffer through this crisis. If the House speaker wants to level her ugly Nero comparison at anyone, perhaps she should look in the mirror.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.


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