Defensive Dems scold coronavirus lockdown protesters as rallies spread across country

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As protests spread against the stay-at-home orders put in place by governors across the country, some prominent Democrats have panned the demonstrations as dangerous and ill-informed, saying the protesters risk spreading coronavirus among themselves and contributing to a spike in cases in their states.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., addressed the protesters in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace.

"No, not really," she said when asked if she understood why people are demonstrating. "...I’m respectful [of] whatever people think they should say, but the fact is this has to be science-based, evidence-based, data-based."

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on MSNBC last week said that the protests against her stay-at-home order may lead her to extend the order, due to the fact so many people could have been exposed to the coronavirus.

"When you see a political rally, that's what it was yesterday, a political rally like that where people aren't wearing masks and they're in close quarters and they're touching one another ... the odds are very high that they're spreading COVID-19 along with it," she said. "So it's that kind of irresponsible action that puts us in this situation where we might have to actually think about extending stay-at-home orders, which is supposedly what they're protesting."

And Sunday, Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee explicitly said the protests were "illegal."

"I don't know any other way to characterize it, when we have an order from governors, both Republicans and Democrats, that basically are designed to protect people's health, literally their lives, to have a president of the United States basically encourage insubordination, to encourage illegal activity," he said. "These orders actually are the law of these states."

Inslee was referring to three Friday tweets from President Trump, who voiced support for rallygoers in Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan.

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The anti-stay-at-home order protests are often largely made up of supporters of the president, waving Trump flags and wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. The governors of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia are also all Democrats.

In addition to those states, rallies have also made their way to New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky and more. There is a rally scheduled for noon Monday in Harrisburg to protest Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's stay-at-home order.

Wolf panned the efforts on Friday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I know every Pennsylvanian is eager to get back to work — I am included in that," he said, according to the Inquirer. “We are working as hard as we can to make sure we reopen as quickly as possible. What we don’t want to do is reopen and then be hit by this virus in a way that overwhelms our health-care system. Let’s continue to make this good progress and keep people safe, and when the time is right, we will reopen and liberate every single Pennsylvanian.”

Governors of both parties have cautioned against lifting social distancing measures too soon and too completely, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, saying last week that his plan for reopening Texas is not "a rush the gates, everybody is able to suddenly reopen all at once. We have to understand that we must reopen in a way in which we are able to stimulate the economy while at the very same time ensuring that we contain the spread of COVID-19."

Trump's plan to reopen the economy similarly does so in phases, "one careful step at a time."

But Democrats have been more forceful in their rhetoric, not just against protesters by also on keeping states closed.

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New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wrote in an op-ed last week for the Albuquerque Journal that "[n]o one is more eager than I am to lift our stay-at-home orders and declare New Mexico open for business," but said "as public health experts remind us, we are not anywhere close to that point."

Not all protesters are calling for immediate halts to social distancing measures, however. Organizers of the rally in Pennsylvania include Republican lawmakers who support a bill that would mandate the state follow federal guidelines offered by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on which workers should be considered "essential," rather than the more strict order Wolf currently has in place. A press release by the demonstrators sets a May 1 date for "safely reopening."

Rep. Aaron Bernstine, a Republican from western Pennsylvania, will speak at the rally Monday and is one of those lawmakers.

"There's no reason that in Pennsylvania and across this country that we can't do both -- protect our lives and livelihoods," he said. "I think every job is essential to help people provide for their families."

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The organizers of the rally in Pennsylvania are encouraging attendees to wear masks and stay in their cars to maintain social distancing, and are providing a live stream and a radio broadcast of the event to make it easier to participate from inside a car. But not all the anti-stay-at-home order rallies have maintained that social distancing. Huge crowds outside of the Pennsylvania state capital ahead of the event Monday saw many people not observing social distancing and not wearing masks. Demonstrators in Minnesota, in particular, also openly flouted such restrictions.

Another protester who attended the rally in Michigan on Wednesday simply decried the scope of Whitmer's stay-at-home order.

"You can't buy paint. You can't buy lawn fertilizer or grass seed. C'mon. All -- statewide? Really?" one protester in Michigan said Wednesday.