President Trump has used his daily coronavirus press briefings to drive home two messages: He is in charge, and things are running smoothly. Unfortunately, the two messages are in direct conflict with each other. The only moments of success the administration has enjoyed in advancing its “things are running smoothly” message have come when Trump recedes into the background. But Trump himself places more value on the unsettling “Trump is in charge” message, which dominated today’s proceedings.
A list of the daily lowlights:
1. Trump cannot explain whether he’s invoked Defense Production Act. States, hospitals, and manufacturers have begged the Trump administration to use its legal authority to ramp up production of desperately needed supplies for hospitals about to be deluged with coronavirus patients. Trump has given a series of answers for why he hasn’t done it, sometimes saying he has already invoked the act, at other times saying he will invoke it in the future, and still other times insisting it is not necessary.
Today Trump said he did invoke the Defense Production Act, but then went on to say he has not had to use the act:
2. Trump claims to be biostatistical genius. Perhaps the most bizarre exchange came when Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that is being tested as a possible coronavirus treatment. Fauci said there is only “anecdotal” evidence of success, and that it needs real study. Trump then came to the podium to rebut him. “Without saying too much, I’m more of a fan of it than maybe anybody,” he insisted. “I’ve seen things that are impressive.”
Fauci then rebutted Trump:
Trump, completely unfazed by having been corrected in public by a renowned expert, continued to tout his own credentials as a biostatistician. “I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to, in particular, one of these drugs,” he boasted. “It’s just a feeling, just a feeling. [I’m a] smart guy.”
When pressed again by reporters, he made the case in the following terms: “What the hell do you have to lose?” This is, of course, an argument he has made in the past for why African-Americans should vote for him. As we have since seen that they did in fact have a great deal to lose, it is hardly reassuring to see this argument repurposed as a justification for relying on untested medicine.
3. Trump reassures frightened Americans by ranting about media. Asked by NBC’s Peter Alexander what he would say to Americans who are scared? “I would say you’re a terrible reporter,” he replied, ranting about media outlets he hates:
Trump explained that he calls Comcast “Con-cast.” It was probably not a reassuring performance for frightened Americans.
4. Trump makes Dr. Fauci face-palm. Trump says Secretary of State Mike Pompeo needs to get back to work at the State Department — “or as they call it, ‘the Deep State Department.’”
Fauci violates his no-face-touching rule:
In fairness to Fauci, it’s hard to avoid touching your face, especially when you work for Trump and have to listen to him at a press conference. Fauci has managed to do it way less than former chief of staff John Kelly:
5. Trump is unaware that people can’t get tests. For weeks, coronavirus tests have been so difficult to come by that even patients with severe symptoms and proved contact with contagious people have been unable to get them. Stories about the testing failure are ubiquitous. Trump replied, “I’m not hearing that.”
So, he’s either making a bald-faced lie about the federal government’s largest singular failure of the coronavirus pandemic so far, or he is genuinely unaware of it.