Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was pressed by reporters on Monday on why President Donald Trump, at his Tulsa rally, used the offensive phrase “kung flu” to describe the coronavirus.
In one extended exchange, CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang repeatedly asked McEnany why Trump used the terminology.
She asked, “Last July, President Trump declared himself the least racist person there is…Why does he use racist phrases like ‘kung flu'”?
“The president doesn’t,” McEnany responded. “What the president does do is point to the fact that the origin of the virus was China. It’s a fair thing to point out. As China tries to ridiculously try to rewrite history. As China tries to ridiculously blame the virus on American soldiers. This is what China is trying to do. President Trump is saying, ‘No China. I will label this virus for its place of origin.'”
But Jiang then asked, “That is what he is saying by using the racist phrase kung flu?”
McEnany responded, “He is linking it to its place of origin.”
Jiang followed up, “What does he have to say to Asian Americans who are deeply offended and worried that his use will lead to further attacks and discrimination?”
McEnany said that the president “has said very clearly that it is important that we protect our Asian community in the U.S. and around the world. They are amazing people and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it.”
She said that it was “not a discussion about Asian Americans who the president prizes and values as citizens of this great country. It is an indictment of China for letting this virus get here.”
McEnany then noted that media outlets have referred to the virus as the “China virus,” but Jiang said that the use of the term “kung flu” was in a “separate category.”
“Kung flu is extremely offensive to many people in the Asian American community,” Jiang said. “To be clear, are you saying the White House does not believe this term is racist?”
“To be clear, I think the media is trying to play games on the terminology of this virus,” McEnany answered. While mainstream media outlets referred to the virus as the “China virus” at certain points, the use of the term “kung flu” would have been considered offensive. It was Trump who used the phrase at his Saturday rally, as he was describing how there have been many differed terms used to describe the pandemic.
Jiang in March tweeted that a White House official had used the phrase to her in March, but she did not say who that person was. Around that time, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said that the use of the phrase to describe the coronavirus was “highly offensive.”
McEnany also was asked about Trump’s attacks on the removal of statues, as he called it an assault on “our heritage.” Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS Newshour, asked McEnany about Trump’s criticism of the removal of Confederate monuments specifically.
“What does the White House and the president say to Americans who find it offensive to glorify people who owned other Americans, including enslaved African Americans?”
McEnany responded, “I would note on statutes that what we are seeing across the country is really quite confusing, because you are seeing statues defaced like Gandhi’s statue defaced, and Ulysses S. Grant’s statue defaced and abolitionist Mathias Baldwin’s statue defaced, at the same time we are told that George Washington’s statue needs to come down, and Thomas Jefferson’s statue needs to come down. Where do you draw the line, from Gandhi all the way to George Washington?”
She then cited polling showing that the public opposes moving the statues.
“When people watch these statue defacements, like Christopher Columbus, where do you draw the line, because the line goes all the way to Gandhi,” she said.
Alcindor also pressed McEnany on whether Trump’s use of the term “kung flu” was offensive, as Conway had said, but McEnany said that “the president does not believe that it is offensive to note that this virus came from China.”