President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media were relatively tame at the latest coronavirus press briefing. He even gave some praise to PBS NewsHour‘s Yamiche Alcindor, someone he has previously attacked for asking “nasty” questions.
But on Monday Alcindor pressed the president about someone she recently interviewed who said his family got sick and did not take precautions “mainly because the president wasn’t taking it seriously.”
“Are you concerned that downplaying the virus maybe got some people sick?” she asked.
Trump replied, “And a lot of people love Trump. A lot of people love me. You see them all the time. I guess I am here for a reason, and for the best of my knowledge I won. And I think we are going to win again. I think we are going to win in a landslide.”
He then referred to one of his primary defenses of the White House response — a “ban of China, when China can’t come in” back in late January. They actually were restrictions that did not entirely cut off the flow of travel from that country. He also said that before March, “we put on a ban on Europe, where Europe can’t come in.” But the European travel restrictions did not start until March 13, two days after they were announced.
That said, Trump defended the response, noting the China restrictions were put in place “before anyone in this country died.”
“So how can you say I was not taking it seriously?” Trump asked Alcindor.
Yet Alcindor then asked the president why, if he was not downplaying the threat of the virus, he continued to hold rallies in February and March where large numbers of people gathered.
Trump replied, “I don’t know about rallies…I know one thing. I haven’t left the White House in months except for a brief moment to give a ship the Comfort…”
“You held a rally in March,” Alcindor interjected.
“I don’t know? Did I hold a rally? I’m sorry. I hold a rally,” Trump said, a bit facetiously. “Let me tell you. In January, when I did this, there were virtually no cases and no deaths.”
While Trump defended the administration’s response at other points of the briefing, there was a great deal of discussion among members of the coronavirus task force of the issue of testing, which is front and center as governors try to determine whether to reopen their economies.
Vice President Mike Pence said that “we have enough testing capacity today for every state in America to go to phase one if they meet the other criteria of 14 days and sufficient hospital capacity to prepare for any eventuality that may occur.” The administration last week unveiled a set of “criteria” for states to meet if they are to begin the process of reopening their economies — even though Trump himself has been encouraging of anti-quarantine protests against governors in states that don’t yet meet that threshold.
That said, testing is still a big question mark. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, told CNN on Sunday that the lack of testing was the “number one problem in America,” as they are a benchmark for determining the virus’ spread.
So on Monday, Hogan announced that his state had managed to secure 500,000 tests from South Korea.
At the briefing, though, Trump criticized Hogan for not realizing that there were some 5,000 labs the administration has identified to assist in testing capacity. He said that Hogan “could have saved a lot of money.”
But governors say that the testing capacity is only part of the story, as a problem has been the lack of swabs and reagents to perform tests. After Trump’s criticisms, Hogan said on CNN that he was not sure what the president was trying to say, but that one of his issues was access of federal lab facilities in his state.