President Donald Trump praised Colorado’s response to the coronavirus, and its Democratic leader, in a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.
“You’re both doing an excellent job, and it’s an honor to have you at the White House,” Trump told Gov. Jared Polis and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican who also was invited.
The White House is grappling with a coronavirus outbreak of its own, and Polis said in a Facebook video ahead of his meeting with Trump that he was tested at the White House and came back negative.
Polis, who has been in regular touch with the Trump administration through the coronavirus pandemic, said the president invited him to meet in person, and that he could not turn down that invitation.
Among the other attendees at Wednesday’s meeting in the Cabinet Room were Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner; Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the director of the state health department; Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator; and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a Colorado native.
Colorado’s officials wore masks at the meeting, while the president, Birx and officials from North Dakota did not. Polis took off his mask during an exchange with Trump.
Polis conveyed optimism about Colorado’s gradual reopening, which kicked off late last month, ahead of any other state led by a Democrat and well before most states.
“People are back, in a safer way,” Polis told Trump. “It’s not the way it was.”
As evidence of the return of some commerce in the state, Polis said that he’d recently gotten a haircut.
“Looks good,” Trump responded.
Trump asked how Colorado’s ski industry is doing.
“I go there, as you know, and the ski slopes are fantastic,” he told Polis, and the governor said he is hopeful that late-season skiing can resume soon.
Polis praised Gardner’s work in helping Colorado acquire sorely needed testing supplies, and Gardner returned the compliment: “The governor’s done a good job, and I appreciate that,” he said.
Trump took questions from reporters during the meeting.
Schools in Colorado are closed for in-person instruction for the year, and during his exchange with reporters, Trump indicated he disagrees with that decision.
“Our country’s got to get back, and it’s got to get back as soon as possible,” Trump said Wednesday. “I don’t consider the country coming back if the schools are closed.”
Trump also spoke against all-mail voting.
“It’s subject to tremendous corruption — cheating,” he said.
Colorado, which is at the vanguard of the all-mail voting trend, has shown that this is not true. The state is widely regarded as one of the safest places in the country to vote, and the practice has been touted by Republican and Democratic state election officials alike. It’s also increased voter participation.
Neither Gardner, who was elected during Colorado’s first all-mail election, nor Polis addressed the president’s remark about voting by mail.
“I’m here to advocate around COVID-19, around coronavirus, not to get into a debate or correct the president when he makes inaccurate statements about the reliability of mail-in voting,” Polis said in a press call after the meeting.
He clearly made an effort not to rankle the president. Asked whether he was impressed by Trump, Polis said, “He’s the president that we have,” three times in a 14-second span.
Polis said that he and others, including Trump advisor Jared Kushner, met with the president for more than 20 minutes after the televised portion of the meeting. They discussed testing and the need to increase supplies at nursing homes, the governor said.
Polis and Ryan, the health director, flew to D.C. Wednesday on a commercial flight, which Polis told reporters gave him “some trepidation.” He said his mission in Washington was seek more federal support, including testing supplies and protective equipment such as N95 masks.
Polis has said many times since March that he’s deeply frustrated by the lack of testing infrastructure in this country. But the first-term governor, who was previously a U.S. congressman, has mostly avoided public criticism of Trump and his cabinet, as he typically also avoids public criticism of Colorado Republicans.
Asked by a fellow Reddit user this week what he thinks of the White House’s response to the coronavirus, Polis responded with the “face with hand over mouth” emoji.
Asked Monday about his “reluctance to criticize” the White House, Polis said, “I’ll work with anybody and everybody to help the people of Colorado.”
Polis has occasionally spoken out against the White House’s pandemic preparedness and response. In March, he told reporters, “I’m furious that as a leader of the free world, we’re being forced to close down restaurants and bars, because the United States, unlike Taiwan, did not have enough (coronavirus) tests.”