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Pence wants you to believe the White House fulfilled its coronavirus testing promises. Not even close.

Pence promised 4 million tests in short order. He now says he was just talking about tests conducted, not completed.

Pence speaks during the White House press briefing on Monday.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence wants people to believe that when he made an unfulfilled promise in March that “we literally are going to see a dramatic increase in the availability of testing,” he was talking about the distribution of test kits, and not the actual processing of those kits, allowing people to find out whether they have the coronavirus.

That’s the spin Pence offered during Monday’s White House coronavirus press briefing in a statement that was a bit like a college student arguing they’re just obligated to do their coursework, not turn it in.

During the press conference, ABC’s Jon Karl grilled Pence about the discrepancy between what he said in March and what has happened since.

“Mr. Vice President, you said [in March] we’d by at 4 million tests by the following week. We’ve just now got there in the last few days,” Karl began. “So what have you learned about what went wrong over the last month and a half or two months, and what’s going to go right now? What lessons have you learned from the mistakes?”

Pence initially responded by rejecting the question.

“I appreciate the question, but it represents a misunderstanding on your part and, frankly, a lot of the people in the public’s part about the difference between having a test versus the ability to actually process the test,” Pence said, adding: “What the president brought about with this public-private partnership has brought us to the point where we’ve done 5.4 million tests to date.”

The fact is, while data from the Covid Tracking Project indicates that the number of coronavirus tests completed per day in the US has indeed started to tick up over the past week, from about 150,000 per day to 200,000, the country’s testing capacity is still lagging far behind where experts say it needs to be to safely relax social distancing recommendations.

And these numbers are nowhere near where Pence suggested they would be on March 10, when he told reporters during a press briefing that “before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed.” (The US didn’t actually hit more than 4 million tests completed until last week, more than a month later.)

As I’ve detailed, Pence is in the habit of misleadingly touting the raw number of tests completed and not the number completed per day, which obfuscates the reality that per-day testing capacity was largely flat until late last week. This graph from Axios illustrates how little progress was being made for much of this month:

Axios screengrab

Perhaps with this in mind, Karl followed up by asking Pence if he was really trying to make the distinction he seemed to be trying to.

“So when you promised 4 million tests seven weeks ago, you were just talking about tests being sent out, not actually being completed?” he asked.

“Precisely correct,” Pence replied.

Advancing the narrative that the federal government did not underdeliver with respect to testing was a major theme of Monday’s briefing, one that also saw President Donald Trump giving executives from large private companies like CVS and Walmart an opportunity to talk about all they’re doing to increase testing capacity in the country.

While pushing egregious lies about US testing capacity, Trump has insisted that despite its vast resources, the federal government should take a back seat to the private sector and states when it comes to efforts to ramp up testing. States, however, have struggled to source tests themselves — and companies like CVS have similarly been unable to scale up their testing programs.

Even though last month’s promises didn’t really come to fruition (despite what Pence would have you believe), more were made on Monday.

“According to the governors’ plans for next month, we will easily double that 4 million [tests per month] number,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary of health and human services.

In other words, Giroir claimed 8 million coronavirus tests would be conducted next month, or about 258,000 per day. That would be progress — but it’d still be short of the 500,000 per day experts say is necessary to safely reopen businesses.