Trump Touts 'Total' Power in Combative Coronavirus Briefing Blending Campaign Rally-Style Theatrics
At one point a reporter asked him, "How is this sizzle reel or this rant supposed to make people feel confident in an unprecedented crisis?"
For more than half an hour on Monday, President Donald Trump used the daily coronavirus pandemic briefing to argue with reporters, scold them for their earlier press coverage and assert he had complete authority in how local leaders handled the health crisis.
At times, Trump grew visibly irritated under questioning about the government’s response to the virus, which has killed more than 25,000 people in the U.S.
Here’s a recap of the headline-making presser.
Trump Asks Dr. Fauci to Address the Media
Trump, 73, opened Monday’s daily briefing by asking the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to come up to the podium, where the health official walked back comments he made the day before on CNN saying sooner action to slow the coronavirus could have saved more American lives.
“Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday.
On Monday, Fauci said he was speaking hypothetically at the time and he wasn’t blaming the president, who, he said, had listened to health experts about when to make nationwide social distancing guidelines.
One reporter asked Fauci if he was acting voluntarily in addressing his comments and reasserting that Trump, known to strictly surround himself with fierce allies, had listened to his recommendation.
“Everything I do is voluntary,” Fauci said. “Please, don’t even imply that.”
Trump Broadcasts Anti-Media Ad for Reporters
Trump then dimmed the lights in the White House briefing room and showed a video framing “the media” as having downplayed the threat of the coronavirus throughout recent months. Trump himself had previously suggested the virus was no worse than the seasonal flu.
ABC White House correspondent Jon Karl noted that the footage — which used dramatic music, strategic edits and omissions from the timeline of events — was a “campaign-style” video.
Once Trump’s political ad began airing, CNN cut its live feed of the press briefing and moved to a fact-checker.
Trump also grew combative on Monday with reporters at the briefing did that Monday, continuing a pattern of arguing with the press at the coronavirus briefings.
Interrupting and lashing out at reporters, he has labeled inquiries about updates on the federal government’s strategy as “nasty” and “horrid” and has made a routine of immediately brushing off certain questions as “fake news.”
“You’re so disgraceful,” Trump said Monday, trying to cut off CBS reporter Paula Reid. She had asked, “How is this sizzle reel or this rant supposed to make people feel confident in an unprecedented crisis?”
Reid noted the death toll and historically high unemployment numbers.
After roughly 40 minutes, Trump gave an update on the federal government’s latest actions to slow the spread of the virus and the government’s plan to use the Defense Production Act to ask companies, such as General Electric, to build ventilators in order to add 6,190 to the federal stockpile by May 8.
Trump Touts Sweeping (and Incorrect) Presidential Power
Soon after Trump’s update, he defensively took more questions from journalists and swiped again at some state governors over their own choices amid the virus and working with him.
While he has repeatedly said he is working well with leaders like California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, he has also downplayed what they say is an urgent need for more medical supplies to handle virus patients.
He previously has suggested issues with coronavirus testing also rested with the states, after earlier problems with the federal government-created test kits, and said he would defer to governors on stay-at-home orders.
But on Monday, as two groups of governors separately announced plans to form a pact to work together when the time comes to reopen their economies, Trump wrongly asserted the amount of power he believes he has as president.
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,” he told reporters.
In response, Gov. Cuomo told CNN that “if we had a clearer national direction earlier on,” there would have been a more “orderly” shutdown in states across the country.
He also addressed Trump’s claim of having “total” power.
“You don’t become king because there’s a national emergency,” Cuomo said.
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