LEHI — Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said he will continue to prioritize country over party when it comes to his stance on addressing the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. And, he joked in a Wednesday online meeting that business leaders could look to the actions of President Donald Trump as a model for what not to do in a crisis.
“As I think about what you do as a leader in a setting like that ... there’s a way of approaching the people you’re dealing with,” Romney said. “The market, the banks, your employees, your customers, your suppliers. I’ll joke here ... look at what the White House is doing with regards to COVID-19 and do the opposite.
“What I mean by that is, if there’s a problem, take responsibility. If something went wrong, if you did something wrong in the past, don’t look for someone else to blame, take responsibility.”
Romney fielded a wide range of questions during an hourlong online forum hosted Wednesday evening by Utah tech advocacy group Silicon Slopes and moderated by local serial entrepreneur and Traeger Grills CEO Jeremy Andrus.
Romney described the administration’s response to COVID-19 as a mishmash and “not very well organized,” and noted mismanagement of federal resources, poor decision-making that led to unnecessary and unproductive competition among states for personal protection supplies and a failure to play an effective role in supporting widespread testing for the COVID-19 virus.
But, he lauded his fellow lawmakers for finding ways, early on in the pandemic, to bridge the partisan divide sufficiently to assemble and approve trillions in critical federal emergency funding.
Romney said that “when the cameras are off” Republican and Democrat lawmakers can get along well and be quite “collegial and collaborative.” But in the public sphere, he said those same members are obligated to play their respective party roles as part of the pursuit of either retaining, or obtaining, the political power advantage.
Romney said when it comes to Washington, D.C., the majority party in the Senate has an extraordinary advantage and used the current partisan logjam over a Republican proposal for law enforcement reform as an example of how things typically play out.
“With the stakes so high ... the battle to become the party in power is really intense right now,” Romney said. “You’re seeing that with the bill about police reform.
“(The bill is) about 70% the same as the Democrats’ bill. But ... they’d rather not have police reform than actually have Republicans get credit for it. Because we’re getting close to an election in November and there’s no way (they’re) going to give Republicans any wins whatsoever. Particularly if it looks like kind of an outreach to a minority community. Politics ... are unlikely to change just given the stakes associated with being in the majority.”
Romney said that estimating how long, or how deep, the economic impacts from COVID-19 would run were beyond the scope of normal forecasting tools. He also predicted that things may be about to get worse, at least in the short term.
“We just don’t know how the economy will respond to what’s happening with COVID,” Romney said. “There’s never been anything of this nature.”
“The numbers we’re seeing today suggest we’re going to see some fear again.”
But, Romney also said he believes the U.S. is on the road to some level of economic recovery, although a complete return to pre-pandemic levels of prosperity may be much further down the road.
“Even as COVID continues to exceed the number of cases we were expecting at this point, I think the economy will come back moderately,” Romney said. “But I have a hard time seeing it coming back in full swing until older people and people with compromised immune systems feel safe.”
Romney said he believes any additional federal assistance for business owners will be much more narrowly tailored than the initial programs funded through the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill, and that other benefits, like the $600 unemployment stipend, will likely not find support from Senate Republicans beyond its current July 31 end date.
Prompted by Andrus, Romney touched on his decision to participate in a Black Lives Matter event in Washington, D.C., earlier this month and noted his father and former Michigan Gov. George Romney, also a Republican, was “a champion of civil rights in an era where it was an unpopular stance to take.”
“It’s just wrong to have people who are children of the same God and citizens of the same country who feel that they may be at some kind of risk by virtue of their ethnicity,” Romney said. “It’s just wrong.”
As it turns out, Andrus’ father and Romney were both missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris in the late ’60s and, according to a tale recounted by Andrus and confirmed by Utah’s junior senator, Romney, the elder Andrus and a handful of other missionaries slugged it out with a group of French rugby players after the group hassled some sister missionaries.
While Romney and Andrus got the short end of the exchange and both ended up needing some minor medical care the following morning, Romney said it may have been a foreshadowing of things to come.
“We got beaten up pretty bad,” Romney said. “But ... our mission president convinced us not to press charges.
“Probably prepared me for my life in politics.”