US President Donald Trump took advantage of the White House daily briefing on Monday to air a taxpayer-funded promotional video praising his own management of the coronavirus epidemic and criticizing his critics and the press.
In a very unusual gesture during a briefing intended to inform the Americans of the pandemic, the lights of the briefing room went out for a video of more than 3 minutes which was a montage of officials offering glowing comments on the president and on Trump discussing his steps to contain the virus.
“Everything we did was good,” said Trump, complaining at length about the negative press coverage. He said of the video, “I think I educated a lot of people on the press. “
This was tantamount to a revealing demonstration of the president’s growing defense against criticism that the administration should have acted more aggressively and earlier to fight the virus.
Trump also gave Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s best infectious disease expert, a ride to the desk to defend the president’s response to the crisis. Fauci’s conciliatory remarks came a day after Trump reacted negatively to the doctor’s comments on Sunday about the administration’s management of the pandemic. Trump retweeted a post on Sunday that included the hashtag “FireFauci”.
The president sought to persuade the public to look beyond his comments downplaying the threat of the virus and to reject comments, including those of Fauci, that more could have been done. He also said he had no plans to fire Fauci.
On Sunday, Fauci was asked if the United States could have saved lives by acting sooner. He replied, “Obviously, you could logically say that if you had an ongoing process and started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny it. But what goes into these kinds of decisions is complicated. “
Trump responded by reposting a tweet that referred to Fauci’s comments and included the line “Time to #FireFauci”, setting off alarms that Trump might consider trying to overthrow the doctor. Fauci, 79, has served in the Democratic and Republican administrations and has become one of the most recognizable and reliable faces in the federal government’s response.
Fauci said Monday that Trump had followed his recommendations to contain the spread of the coronavirus and that the two men were on the same page. He sought to clarify his previous comments, saying that “hypothetical questions can sometimes cause you difficulty” and that he did not intend to imply “maybe something was wrong here”.
Trump said the video was produced internally by his director of social media, Dan Scavino, and others at taxpayer expense. He said he ordered them to make the video to keep the press “honest.”
The video juxtaposes the first media reports on the virus with a selective account of the administration’s management of the pandemic, as well as the praise of some of the country’s governors, who have openly expressed their concerns about the pace of the federal response. .
Trump acted on March 16 to recommend nationwide social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus, but spent much of February and early March suggesting that the epidemic was well under control and moving quickly.
His administration also waited until March to make general purchases of necessary protective supplies and fans. These are critical days that experts and even some government officials have recognized as a missed opportunity to get ahead of the virus.
Trump defended the pace of his response, saying he could not have issued directives that would have had serious economic consequences until the virus began to spread rapidly in the United States.
“We did the right thing and our timing was very good,” said Trump. The pandemic has infected more than 580,000 Americans and killed more than 23,500 in the United States.
Fauci said he and Dr. Deborah Birx, who leads the White House coronavirus response, went twice to the president to discuss strong social distancing guidelines that led to a dramatic economic downturn. He said Trump had given his assent twice.
Fauci said that when he and Birx recommended that the country need an additional 30 days of social distancing after the first 15 days: “Obviously there were people who had a problem with it because of the potential side effects. Nevertheless, at that time, the president went with the health recommendation. “
He bristled when asked if he was trying to clarify his comments voluntarily.
“Everything I do is voluntary,” said Fauci, hands up. “Please don’t even imply that. “
When asked what mistakes had been made, Fauci focused only on what he personally could have done differently to fight what he called his “worst nightmare.”
“Maybe I should really have tried to dig a little deeper,” he said of initial reports from China that the virus was slow to spread among humans, which happened later proved catastrophic.