Aoife Moore: How a tired Taoiseach spent 36 hours in Washington

Aoife Moore: How a tired Taoiseach spent 36 hours in Washington

Leo Varadkar's entire day in Washington was overshadowed by his five minute Covid-19 statement, writes Aoife Moore

"I need to speak to you about Coronavirus," Leo Varadkar began his statement on Thursday morning.

He stood outside the President's guest residence in Washington, Blair House, under an unflattering light and an incredibly creased tri-colour before telling the nation that we must come together in order to prevail.

It was a sombre sight, and he looked concerned, for a man whose lack of bedside manner has garnered many column inches. Leo Varadkar, though tired, spoke with feeling as he described the current crisis facing the world.

We have to close the schools and colleges, he said, but time was something we could get back, and human life must be the priority.

When he was finished, he took no questions and disappeared back inside to get ready for an entire day which would be overshadowed by this five minute statement.

At the White House, journalists took part in their annual wrestling match to gain entry to the Oval Office.

We packed in around the sofas, a coffee table sat between the chairs which for no apparent reason held a model version of Air Force One, with not a shamrock in sight.

President Trump, large, looming and "sunkissed" gave long rambling answers to questions about the virus, scarce on detail, heavy on adjectives.

He sat in total contrast to the Taoiseach, who was eager to put minds at ease with concise, direct answers - a doctor to the last, it seems, but still with some minor flattery for the Yanks present - as he's still a politician.

When Irish journalists badgered the American leader about whether Ireland would remain off the travel-ban list, Mr Trump said only: “It was made very clear last night who is and who isn’t," staring blankly ahead, as we journalists stared at Leo Varadkar, silently pleading for clarification, like children who need their parent to describe adult matters.

Varadkar intervened and confirmed that the president had indeed excluded Ireland from the travel ban, as we sighed a collective relief, as we passed around the hand sanitizer.

Half an hour was spent listening mostly to President Trump wax lyrical about his "million tests" he would be making available for hospitals across the US, and whether Japan, who "builds beautiful buildings, like me, I used to be in real estate if you haven't heard", might cancel the Olympics.

At one point, without any sense of irony, Mr Trump, who has reportedly been in direct contact with two people who have the virus, but has not himself been tested, told us to use our "common sense", before appearing to refer to Ireland as "the UK".

Irish journalists played softball questions to the American leader, later briefing each other outside that they had thought of other things to ask, but were unsure if the President would have the knowledge of Ireland required to answer them. A luxury they do not afford to representatives in Leinster House.

After the White House, a jaunt to Capitol Hill for House Speaker, and Trump's sworn enemy, Nancy Pelosi's annual luncheon.

Aoife Moore: How a tired Taoiseach spent 36 hours in Washington

Naturally, given to doing exactly what he wants, President Trump did not attend, marking the first time since the event was founded more than thirty years ago by former Speaker Tipp O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan that neither the president nor vice president would attend.

Not even the pomp and circumstance of the historically bipartisan event could deflate Trump's fragile ego enough to sit in Pelosi's presence and eat a Waldorf salad.

Nevertheless, the show went on without the Tweeter in Chief, but there still, Coronavirus played centrestage, with Varadkar telling the crowd of around 50 men and 11 women (I counted), that we must tackle the virus together as a global community.

"Covid 19 reminds us that we, humans, are not masters of our world," he said in what could have been considered light dinner party chit-chat for the day that was in it.

"This is a problem that is global.

The virus knows no borders and we all have to work together to combat it.

He elbow-bumped with the dignitaries present as they celebrated each other's dedication to peace in the north, and looked to the future for Ireland and Europe without Britain in the EU.

Poor old Brexit, for all its looming dangers, could barely get a look in on Thursday, because some younger more prominent crisis had distracted us all with it guiles.

Varadkar rounded out his speech with some history about his hero Charles Stewart Parnell, but unlike his patriot hero, the heart wasn't in the fight at the end.

His final event came full circle, as we stood outside Blair house, seven hours after where we started, and we were back to the Coronavirus.

He did not regret coming to Washington, he said, but he looked like a man ready to go home.

He didn't regret announcing the school closures that facilitated mass-panic across the Atlantic either, however as someone who is usually concerned with his optics, it's unlikely the thought of how it looked hadn't crossed his mind.

The army stands ready, the Dáil can be recalled and government can still be formed he said, but he will continue if duty calls for it.

The crisis itself, though devastating, has been an opportunity for Varadkar to shine, with calm, no nonsense responses, clinical thought and statesman-like speeches.

However, with no shamrock ceremony, no Ambassador's dinner and Varadkar's trip cut to 36 hours, you could not have been blamed for mistaking the day for any other. Poor old St. Patrick, as if he hasn't suffered enough.

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