President Donald Trump called U.S. Sen. Angus King “worse than any Democrat” on Saturday, a day after the Maine independent criticized his administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak on a call with Vice President Mike Pence.
King, a former two-term Maine governor who caucuses with Democrats, had at least one testy exchange with the vice president on the Friday call that culminated in the senator calling the federal government’s failure to provide widespread testing for the virus “a dereliction of duty.”
“I have never been so mad about a phone call in my life,” King said on the call, according to Politico.
Trump, a Republican, hit back at a Saturday briefing with reporters in Washington. After a reporter noted King’s criticism, the president said the Maine senator uses his independent status “for whatever reason” and that he is “worse than any Democrat.”
“Angus King is a Democrat and that was totally staged,” he said.
The U.S. was slow to roll out testing for the virus as the number of confirmed cases grew to the highest of any country in the world. While it has become increasingly available here, Vox lists the country fifth out of nine industrialized nations in testing per capita. Testing has also varied widely by state, with Maine testing more than most other states by percentage.
Trump has been advocating for a relatively quick reopening of the nation’s economy, which has been largely stunted by the stay-at-home orders and business closures in Maine and most other states. The virus has led to a month of record unemployment filings that amounted to one in 10 Maine workers and an unprecedented plunge in retail sales.
Health experts have advised that opening state economies too soon could lead to a resurgence of the virus, often citing a need for more testing. Both King and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sit on a presidential task force on reopening the economy. Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has said she is planning a phased-in reopening of the state’s economy.
Trump’s criticism echoed a line that Maine Republicans have often used against King — that he is a reliable Democratic vote. King has a more conservative voting record than all but three Democrats during this Congress, according to VoteView. He is highly popular in Maine, with 59 percent of voters approving of him in a Critical Insights survey released last week.