How My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and President Trump Became Friends (and Political Allies)

Inside the Oval Office on Monday, the fiercely loyal Trump ally says he and the president talked about business and an idea to put health care workers at the front doors of public buildings to make sure customers aren’t carrying the virus. The pair also discussed whether churches could be considered an “essential business” during social distancing shutdowns.

“We need to get people back working and people in churches,” Lindell tells PEOPLE. “This is sad that this is going on and our churches are getting attacked.”

The president — who has faced his own share of criticism from evangelical voters in recent months — had already pushed back his dream date of April 16, Easter, to reopen the U.S. after weeks of isolation due to the virus.

“Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?” Trump said during a Fox News interview last Tuesday. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country. I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”

President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been widely criticized, especially from a growing list of governors who say the federal government needs to do more to send necessary medical supplies to states reeling with the effects of the outbreak.

Instead, Trump has trumpeted private businesses like Lindell’s that he says are stepping up to help the country in a time of crisis.

But while the president’s past life as a reality television star was well-known before he was elected in 2016, Trump still draws criticism and shock when he involves politically loyal business leaders to speak at the presidential podium.

“Don’t give me the MyPillow guy doing a song and dance when people are dying in Queens!” New York City sportscaster and longtime Trump ally Mike Francesa said in response to Monday’s press conference.

“We don’t need to hear from the My Pillow guy, we need to hear from the My Face-Mask guy and My Ventilator guy and the My Virus Test guy,” another viral tweet criticizing Lindell’s appearance read.

The Trump campaign defended Lindell’s standing alongside the president in the time of a global crisis.

“Mike Lindell is a great American and is grateful to the country that gave him a second chance at life,” Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh told PEOPLE, referencing Lindell’s previous addiction. “He has become wildly successful through hard work and perseverance and is now trying to help his fellow citizens by converting his factory to make 50,000 masks a day. Instead of mocking him, the unhinged left should be appreciative.”

The White House did not respond for a request for comment.

Lindell says he’s since been “attacked” by the media, which he’s been speaking to all day, including an appearance later Tuesday night on Fox News for an interview with anchor Lou Dobbs.

“I’m just trying to do a lot here all at once,” Lindell tells PEOPLE, putting the phone down to ask an assistant what time his interview is on Fox because he’ll need to change his suit.

Sounding rushed and filled with a sense of duty following his one-on-one with the president, Lindell says he’s flying to Denver soon to pick up a shipment of hand sanitizer he’s “experimenting” with to create a 24-hour sanitation gel he believes can help stop coronavirus and help his friend, Donald Trump.

“I’m very proud of what he’s done,” Lindell says. “I will not back down ever — ever.”

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