BRASILIA - The Brazilian lawmaker who President Jair Bolsonaro is backing to lead the lower house of Congress said on Wednesday that the country's coronavirus pandemic should not be politicized and was not a good enough reason to impeach the right-wing leader.
The comments by center-right Congressman Arthur Lira, widely expected to be elected the new head of the lower house, underline the uphill battle faced by those hoping to impeach Bolsonaro over his handling of the pandemic.
More than 60 impeachment requests have already been filed to Congress, but a majority of Brazilians reject such a move against Bolsonaro, an opinion poll last week showed.
If he is elected speaker, Lira would be responsible for approving any vote in the lower house on whether to send Bolsonaro for trial in the Senate.
"I think that with this pandemic, we have to be very careful. We have to be very calm," Lira told fellow lawmakers, adding that the pandemic should not lead to "traumatic" discussions of steps that would violate democratic norms.
Brazil has registered nearly 9 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to almost 219,000, according to Health Ministry data, in the world's third-worst outbreak outside the United States and India.
Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic, a slow vaccine rollout, and the end of a generous COVID-19 welfare package have all eaten into the president's support in recent weeks, polls show.
Lira, who has cast himself as a fiscal conservative, added that the pandemic was a global problem, and urged unity.
"We need to come together," he said. "We cannot politicize the vaccine."
He added that he hoped to pursue an administrative reform and a tax overhaul, and introduce measures to cap federal spending.