"I think it's a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you," Sen. McConnell told the Trump campaign

By Sean Neumann
May 12, 2020 04:46 PM
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Mark Wilson/Getty; Scott Olson/Getty

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that President Barack Obama "should have kept his mouth shut" after the former president said Donald Trump administration's novel coronavirus response has been "an absolute chaotic disaster" in a private call that was recorded last week.

"I think it's a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you," Sen. McConnell, a Republican, told President Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump during an appearance on a Trump 2020 campaign live stream.

"You had your shot, you were there for eight years," said McConnell, 78. "I think the tradition that the Bushes set up — of not critiquing the president who comes after you — is a good tradition."

Obama, 58, has largely followed the tradition of former presidents staying out of current administration's politics, with the exception of his political endorsements as well as periodic tweets usually obliquely referencing the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus and Trump's rollback of Obama-era environmental policies.

Former President George W. Bush also endorsed candidates — including both of Obama's election opponents, former Sens. John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Obama's sharp criticism of the Trump administration came during a private phone call last Friday with former members of his administration and escalated his public opposition to the White House's decisions amid the pandemic.

The former president had previously not-so-subtly referenced Trump's shortcomings in tweets, including in late April when he wrote that the U.S. was still waiting for "a coherent national plan” to combat the coronavirus.

Obama has, however, never mentioned Trump on Twitter by name while the president has tweeted about Obama at least 16 times this year (including three times in the past week).

Trump, 73 — whose anti-Obama opinions stretch back to when he popularized the debunked racist conspiracy theory that Obama wasn't born in America — also routinely brings up Obama during press conferences and interviews, last week calling members of the Obama administration "human scum."

Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic climbed past 80,000 this week, according to available data. The New York Times reports there's been more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, while federal health officials told the Senate on Tuesday morning that the number of deaths and total cases is likely higher than the reported number.

In response to the scrutiny the federal government has received for its coronavirus response — particularly issues with testing kits and Trump's changing tone over the seriousness of the virus — the president has argued his administration was unprepared for the pandemic because of Obama-era decisions.

Trump recently contended that Obama had left him "broken" tests for the virus, which first emerged late last year.

In a statement to PEOPLE on Saturday, in response to Obama's coronavirus criticism, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said:

"President Trump’s coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives. While Democrats were pursuing a sham witch hunt against President Trump, President Trump was shutting down travel from China. While Democrats encouraged mass gatherings, President Trump was deploying PPE [personal protective equipment], ventilators and testing across the country. As Gov. Cuomo said, President Trump’s response has been 'phenomenal.' There has been a bipartisan recognition of President Trump’s leadership, and the American people have taken notice."

On Monday, Trump claimed during a press conference at the White House that Obama was behind the "biggest political crime in American history," but he would not say what crime he was accusing his predecessor of committing.

“You know what the crime is," Trump told reporters. "The crime is very obvious to everybody, all you have to do is read the newspapers.”

The accelerated attacks between the current and former administration come as the 2020 presidential election looms closer and Democrats begin to rally behind former Vice President Joe Biden in taking on Trump come November.

Obama officially endorsed Biden, his No. 2, in a video message last month.

"The Republicans occupying the White House and running the U.S. senate are not interested in progress," Obama said in the video. "They’re interested in power.”

On Friday, Obama reportedly stressed again to his former staff the importance of getting behind Biden in the 2020 election.

“This election that’s coming up on every level is so important because what we’re going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party," Obama said, according to Yahoo News, which obtained audio of his call with former administration members. "What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life."

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.