As news coverage continued to focus on his alarming suggestion that disinfectant may be ingested into the human body as a coronavirus treatment, Trump made remarks and left the briefing room without taking any questions from reporters, as he has in nearly all previous press conferences.
So instead of lasting two hours, Friday’s briefing lasted 21 minutes.
“It’s clear that they knew he shouldn’t be out there taking questions today, that they had to put this to bed,” said MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. “They are clearly trying to do a cleanup here.”
Trump did take questions from reporters earlier in the day and claimed that his comments were sarcasm directed at reporters, but that wasn’t the way that they were taken. On CNN, Anderson Cooper said that Trump was lying when he tried to backtrack on his disinfectant comments.
On Fox Business Network, Neil Cavuto said: “The president, to his credit, was clarifying that he didn’t mean anything by it, that it was a sarcastic response. But he did say it yesterday, and if people were leaping on that yesterday, I just shudder to think how many might have acted on that.”
The Centers for Disease Control, the EPA and others issued advisories warning against the human ingestion of disinfectants, which are poisonous.
The news networks continued to carry Trump’s press conference live, even as some critics say that the disinfectant remarks are a perfect example of why they should be covered in other ways. CNN has been skipping portions of the briefing while interrupting for fact checking, while MSNBC has done some of the same.
But Todd defended the decision to carry the briefing shortly before it started.
“And I know what some of you might be thinking in this moment, ‘Why would we air the president live today after all of this?'” he said. “Because we think that letting you see the president unfiltered in the moment — he’s the elected president — especially during a national crisis like this one at this moment, is, simply put, a very important thing for American citizens to see right now.”
During the briefing, one reporter did get in a question to Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The query had to do with antibody testing, not disinfectants.
Trump’s early departure from the briefing happened after a bit of a incident in the briefing room over seating. Chris Johnson, correspondent for The Washington Blade and the print pooler for the day, said that a White House official instructed him to take CNN’s seat, occupied by Kaitlan Collins, near the front of the briefing room, during the press conference, while she would move further back.
But the seats are actually assigned by the White House Correspondents’ Association, not the White House staff, so Johnson refused. The official then told him that swapping seats was not an option “and the Secret Service was involved,” according to Johnson. But he again refused to move, citing guidance from the WHCA.
The briefing proceeded with both Collins and Johnson in their assigned seats.
Trump has attacked Collins at previous briefings. Most recently, on Thursday, he refused to answer one of her questions. “CNN is fake news. Don’t talk to me,” he said.
ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Jon Karl, this year’s president of the WHCA, later told reporters that the Secret Service said that they “were not involved whatsoever” in the effort to change the seating.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.