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The partisan divide in assessing President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is apparent among the two candidates for the 11th Congressional District.

Rick Laib, a Republican from Joliet, appears to give Trump a pass on his response to the pandemic, even as the U.S. approaches 200,000 deaths because of COVID-19, according to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

In a recent Zoom interview with Shaw Media, Laib said he doesn’t know whether the president could have known about the “fullness” of the threat of the virus. Laib said this even after the publication of recordings in which Trump admitted to downplaying the threat in February.

Laib added that the pandemic is “being managed” and that Trump was “very active” in his response earlier this year.

“I don’t know what there is to dislike about the action that he’s taken,” he said.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, dismissed Laib’s take, pointing to the scale of the outbreak in the U.S. compared with other advanced countries.

“I don’t see how any reasonable person can look at the facts and make that conclusion,” Foster said in an interview.

The congressman pointed to the fact that although the U.S. has only about 4% of the world’s population, it has recorded about 20% of the total COVID-19 deaths worldwide.

“That doesn’t sound like A+ performance to me,” Foster said.

Foster argued that the responses in other comparably wealthy countries, where leaders encouraged measures such as social distancing, helped avoid large outbreaks. He said the difference in those countries was that their leaders listened to experts and explained the importance of such measures to the public.

“This is a strategy that has worked in many advanced countries and failed tragically here because the president simply didn’t want to face the reality,” Foster said.

Laib went as far as to suggest, without evidence, that health experts are politically motivated in providing guidance to the public, especially in recommending the shutdown of parts of the economy. He also argued that there is a portion of Americans who question the motivations of experts and don’t trust their advice.

“If people start to suspect an agenda is at play, then, yeah, I think people will start to question what’s being presented as the science,” he said.

When pressed on whether he thinks public health experts are acting politically in combating the pandemic, Laib said, “I wouldn’t rule that out.”

Although Laib did not substantiate the claim, some polling has shown skepticism among the public about a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available.

Foster attributed this lack of trust in science to a “decades-long, systematic, well-planned attack on the credibility of official sources of information.” He said the first time he encountered this was during the rise of the Tea Party Movement, whose members pushed outright falsehoods, such as President Barack Obama not being born in the U.S.

“The fact that a policy of deliberately lying turned into a politically winning strategy has had a very corrosive effect,” Foster said.

The congressman added that Trump is “only the endpoint of that strategy.” He argued that with thousands affected by the pandemic, the country has seen the most dangerous effects of politicians “deliberately” lying to the public.

“People are dying because politicians lied,” he said. “And that’s, I hope, a lesson that our country will learn.”

The general election is Nov. 3.

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