UPDATED with more details: President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters after declaring a national emergency over the coronavirus crisis, said that he takes no responsibility for delays in making testing more widely available.
“I don’t take any responsibility at all,” he said. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, earlier this week described the delayed testing as a failing. Trump suggested that the system “wasn’t designed for this kind of event.”
Appearing on Friday with members of his administration and the business community, Trump was asked repeatedly whether he himself would get tested, after interacting with a Brazilian official last weekend who later tested positive for the virus.
After insisting that he had no symptoms and that it was just a brief meeting with the official to take a photo, he told CBS News’ Weijia Jiang he “most likely” would be tested but that it has not been scheduled.
Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, asked Trump why, earlier in his administration, he shut down an office in the National Security Council that was dedicated to pandemics.
Trump called her question “nasty,” and then said that someone else made the decision to shut the office down. “When you say me, I didn’t do it,” Trump said, adding, “I don’t know anything about it.”
The exchanges came after Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus crisis, easing the ability to extend federal aid to states and cities hit hard by the pandemic.
In a press conference in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said “I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words.” He said his declaration will open up to $50 billion for emergency relief, and is necessary as the crisis enters a “new phase.” He also said that he is asking every hospital to enact its emergency preparedness plan, and was taking steps to waive rules in healthcare facilities to streamline access and operations.
Trump also announced some economic relief measures, including waiving interest on all student loans held by federal agencies for the time being. He also has ordered the Department of Energy to buy up supply for the strategic oil reserve.
Standing with members of his administration as well as business leaders, Trump also said that Google is launching a website to help people determine if they should get tested. If they are finding that they need testing, they will then go to drive-through testing locations. The tests will be sent to a lab, and they will then be able to view them on the Google website. But Google issued a statement throwing cold water on the idea that the site would be available anytime soon. It is being done through subsidiary Verily, and is in the “early stages of development.” They are planning to roll out testing in the Bay Area, “with the hope of expanding more broadly over time,” according to a Google spokesperson.
Trump emphasized that not everyone needed to get tested. “We don’t want everybody taking this test,” he said. “It’s totally unnecessary.”
Trump’s Oval Office speech on Wednesday, meant in part to calm markets, instead left many questions left unanswered. The administration also has faced criticism for failing to prepare for the needs for coronavirus testing as the outbreak unfolded around the world.
Trump predicted that “this will pass through and we will be even stronger for it. We have learned a lot. A tremendous amount has been learned.”
Joining Trump were the CEOs of some major U.S. companies, including Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, who talked of making parking lots available for testing locations.
Trump shook some their hands as they each made remarks — despite advisories from federal health officials to avoid such contact. There also are questions about Trump’s own exposure to the coronavirus, after the press secretary to Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, tested positive for the virus days after meeting with Trump and Pence at Mar-a-Lago.
Earlier, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House would vote on Friday on a relief package, including a provision to make coronavirus testing free for all Americans. It was unclear whether Republicans would support the legislation. Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, said that the speaker had spoken almost a dozen times on Friday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, leading negotiations for the White House.
“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” Pelosi said.
As Trump spoke at his press conference, Pelosi continued to speak to Mnuchin. But Trump said that negotiations had been at an impasse because “we don’t think they are doing enough.”