The networks found it off-topic, particularly as Trump began to talk about progress of the construction of a wall along the southern border, a signature campaign promise.
CNN’s John King expressed his annoyance.
“When you are an incumbent president, to bring that into a briefing in the middle of a pandemic, the day after the incredibly sobering news the administration rightfully delivered to the American people yesterday, is shameless and it’s political,” he said on-air. “The president has other opportunities to do this. There are 24 hours in a day. He has all the buildings of the government still at his disposal.”
MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said, “If President Trump had important coronavirus news to tell us, it must not have trumped this.”
The networks later returned to the briefing when the focus turned back solely to the coronavirus crisis, but broke away again before it concluded.
The news networks have been under some pressure, even by some of their on-air talent, to stop covering the coronavirus briefings live, arguing that they have, at times, taken on the rhetoric of one of Trump’s campaign rallies or that it is next-to-impossible to fact-check the president in real time. The times that CNN and MSNBC have cut away also have come with some pushback from White House officials and the Republican National Committee.
But King argued that while Trump can use his bully pulpit to his advantage in an election year, as his predecessors have, “this is different.”
“This is a pandemic,” he said, “where the American people are being told 100,000, maybe 200,000 of our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens, could perish in his pandemic. You cannot abuse a coronavirus task force briefing for other measures.”
Attorney General Bill Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and some military brass joined Trump for the anti-drug portion of the news conference, and White House Coronavirus Task Force members Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Vice President Mike Pence took the stage when the others exited.
In contrast to Tuesday’s briefing, when Trump, Fauci and Birx warned Americans of a grim few weeks as coronavirus casualties mount, the president returned to form on Wednesday. He boasted of his Facebook audience — “Did you know I was No. 1 on Facebook? I just found out” — while sparring a bit with members of the media.
This time it was Fox News’ John Roberts, who pointed out that the president’s criticisms of the Obama administration’s pandemic preparedness while others have noted that the Trump administration eliminated the National Security Council pandemic office.
“We didn’t do that. That turned out to be a false story,” Trump told him. “What are you, working for CNN?”
“No, no, no. I am pointing out what they have said and what you have said,” Roberts replied.
“Fox isn’t so easy either,” Trump responded. “Don’t kid yourself.”
He added, “You shouldn’t be repeating a story you know is false.”
Politifact has rated the elimination of the pandemic office — actually, the pandemic team — as “half true.”
Roberts also asked Trump about why the administration had decided, in the midst of the pandemic, not to reopen the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, given the concerns that people are being crushed by medical bills.
Trump handed off the question to Pence, who talked about a range of issues, including insurance companies who have waived co-pays for testing, but did not directly answer.
“I think it is one of the greatest answers I have ever heard, because Mike was able to speak for five minutes and not even touch your question,” Trump said. “That’s really a fair question, and it is something we are looking into.”
Said Roberts: “This a huge worry for people in this country who are in that donut hole. They don’t have commercial insurance. They don’t qualify for Medicaid. What do they do?”
Trump replied: “That’s a pretty big group. We are looking at it.”
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