An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump calls Washington Governor Jay Inslee 'a snake' during coronavirus tour of CDC

Vice President Mike Pence, flanked by Gov. Jay Inslee, federal officials and members of the Congressional delegation during a visit to Washington on Thursday, March 5, 2020.
Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Vice President Mike Pence, flanked by Gov. Jay Inslee, federal officials and members of the Congressional delegation during a visit to Washington on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

While touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday, President Donald Trump called Washington Gov. Jay Inslee "a snake.”

The president’s comments, which were captured on video, came one day after Vice President Mike Pence visited Washington state to address the growing coronavirus crisis. During that visit, both Pence and Inslee were complimentary of each other.

“I told Mike not to be complimentary of the governor because that governor is a snake,” Trump told reporters in Atlanta in Fox News video posted to Twitter.

“And I said if you’re nice to him, he will take advantage,” Trump continued. “Let me just tell you, we have a lot of problems with the governor …. So Mike may be happy with him, but I’m not.”

According to a White House press pool report from Atlanta, Trump also said of Inslee: “If we came up with a [coronavirus] cure right now … He would say Trump did a terrible job.”

In a tweet, Inslee responded to Trump’s comments by saying: “My single focus is and will continue to be the health and well-being of Washingtonians. It’s important for leaders to speak with one voice. I just wish the president and the vice president could get on the same page.”

On Thursday, during his visit to Washington, Pence praised Inslee and other state officials for their response to the growing coronavirus outbreak in the state.

“Washington state is on the front lines of the coronavirus in America and the people of Washington state should be proud of your state and local leadership,” Pence said at a news conference with Inslee.

Asked during the news conference to rate President Trump's response to coronavirus, Inslee demurred.

“I’ve had more than a very robust disagreements with the president, but I want to focus today on the work we need to do in partnership,” Inslee responded.

But Inslee, a Democrat who briefly ran for president last year, has not always been so diplomatic. Last week, after Pence called him about coronavirus, Inslee tweeted that he told Pence: “Our work would be more successful if the Trump administration struck to the science and told the truth.”

Also, in February 2018, at a White House meeting of governors, Inslee confronted Trump during a discussion about arming teachers and said, “I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening.”

It’s not clear if the president’s disdain for Inslee will translate to less help from the federal government in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Washington has emerged as the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. with more than 70 cases and more than a dozen deaths. During Pence’s visit, the vice president pledged the full support of the federal government.

“Our message to families all across the state of Washington is simply this: we’re with you, we are here to help and we’re going to stay with you every step of the way until the state of Washington and America sees our way through the coronavirus.”

Also Friday, in an interview with CNBC, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow advised people to avoid travel to Seattle because of coronavirus.

“That would be a place you would avoid for now,” Kudlow said on CNBC. 

In response to Kudlow’s comments, as well as Trump’s, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a lengthy statement denouncing their rhetoric and its potential impact on the local economy. 

“This administration is name-calling and making inaccurate off-the-cuff comments – it’s simply irresponsible and has serious consequences for our residents and businesses,” Durkan said.

Copyright 2020 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."