At one point he told her, "Nice and easy, just relax," and later he said, "Keep your voice down, please"

By Adam Carlson
April 20, 2020 02:26 PM
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President Donald Trump grew testy on Sunday with a CBS News reporter who was pressing him about his response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At one point he told her, “Nice and easy, just relax.” Later he said, “Keep your voice down, please.”

But Trump, despite his admonishments of CBS’ Weijia Jiang, seemed to grow agitated as Jiang’s questioning became more pointed.

At the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House, Jiang had asked the president about a comment he made last week that he was “angry” over not having information about the new coronavirus “sooner” — even though, Jiang pointed out, he said in mid March he “felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

And so Jiang asked him, “Why did you wait so long to warn them [Americans]? And why did you not have social distancing [guidelines] until March 16?”

Trump responded by asking Jiang which news outlet she worked for and then he turned to tout his decision to suspend much of the travel from China in early February.

“I was very early, very, very early,” he said.

He contended it was a life-saving decision that spared tens of thousands of people from the virus, though there isn’t strong evidence of this. He then noted that Democrats did not discuss the coronavirus at some of their primary debates early this year.

“You’re the president, sir,” Jiang responded.

She also pointed out that the restrictions on travel from China did not stop Americans and some others from returning home to the U.S. (“Nice and easy, nice and easy, just relax,” he told her.)

“When you issued the ban, the virus was already here,” Jiang said.

Here is where their exchange grew testier. Trump asked her, “How many cases of virus were in the United States when I issued the ban, do you know the number?”

When Jiang did not immediately give an exact number, he cut in again, voice sharper: “No, no, no, you have to do your research. How many— ”

Jiang interjected: “I did my research. On the 23rd of March, you said you knew this was going to be a pandemic well before the WHO [World Health Organization].”

From left: Weijia Jiang and President Donald Trump
Shannon Finney/Getty; MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

“I did know it. All I have to do is look,” Trump said. “Anybody knew it.”

“So you know it was going to spread,” Jiang responded.

As the president continued to press his point about the low number of domestic cases when he stopped Chinese travel, Jiang tried to ask another question.

“So do you acknowledge that you didn’t think it was going to spread?” she said.

“Keep your voice down, please, keep your voice down,” he told her.

“How many people died in the United States? And yet I closed up the country, and I believe there were no deaths — zero deaths — at the time I closed up the country,” Trump said, exaggerating the scope of the travel ban. “Nobody was there. And you should say ‘thank you very much’ for good judgment.”

The president has repeatedly pointed to his decision to restrict international travel — first from China and then Europe — as a crucial preventative response to the coronavirus (even though he has misstated that he made the decision over widespread opposition).

However, the Trump administration’s strategy has been heavily scrutinized for other reasons: There were persistent issues rolling out testing kits in February and March, and Trump’s own tone about the virus became more serious in mid-March after he earlier downplayed it compared to the flu.

He has also traded barbs with some governors over the states’ authority to handle the virus, the governors’ individual decisions and whether his administration should be on the hook for providing assistance with how each state fares with the virus.

Trump’s exchange with CBS’ Jiang was only the latest in a pattern of sparring with reporters — or criticizing their questioning — during his coronavirus briefings.

He snapped at NBC’s Peter Alexander in March after Alexander asked, “What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?”

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter,” Trump replied. “That’s what I say. I think that’s a very nasty question.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.