The White House’s latest coronavirus briefing was geared largely to the issue of testing, as substantial issues remain as to whether states have the necessary supplies to scale up screenings on a large scale basis.
But on the top of the minds of reporters in the room were a series of President Donald Trump’s tweets he sent earlier in the day, in which he seemingly sided with protesters in Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia who are demonstrating against stay-at-home orders and other measures in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
“These are people who are expressing their views,” Trump told reporters. “I see where they are. I see the way they work it. They seem to be very responsible people to me.”
What left many pundits whiplashed was less than 24 hours earlier, Trump and the White House Coronavirus Task Force unveiled a three-phase plan for states to reopen their economies, but it hinged on them meeting a set of criteria that included a showing, among other things, a downward trajectory of cases over a 14-day period. According to The Washington Post, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia do not yet meet that threshold.
Outside of the political question — that Trump is trying to stir things up in three states with Democratic governors — there’s also the practical concern. The White House coronavirus guidelines recommend avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, but the demonstration at the gathering at the home of the governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, was much larger than that.
The crowd is now several hundred. Impossible to get an accurate count.
The crowd has been mostly civil, though one woman was telling people, “Don’t get near me. I’ve got COVID!” pic.twitter.com/JxE4LmTOrI
— Theo Keith (@TheoKeith) April 17, 2020
Trump’s argument was that some of the state’s put in place measures that are “too tough.” Although he did not specify what they were, he did slam the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, who signed a series of gun reform bills last week.
“If you look at some of the states you just mentioned it is too tough, not only relative to this, but what they have done in Virginia with respect to the second amendment,” Trump said. “It is a horrible thing. They did a horrible thing, the governor.
“When you see what he said about the Second Amendment, when you see what other states have done, no I feel very comfortable.”
The response from some governors was puzzlement and even anger. Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) said that Trump was encouraging “illegal and dangerous acts” with his “unhinged rantings.”
“The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies, even while his own administration says the virus is real, it is deadly and we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted,” he wrote on Twitter.
As has been the case with previous briefings, the news networks varied in how they carried it. As Fox News covered it live, CNN skipped the start, as Trump read a lengthy statement, while MSNBC broke away toward the end, as host Ari Melber went to an interview with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.