President Trump had a lot to say after he toured the CDC on Friday, and very little of it will make anyone other than President Trump feel better about his administration’s response to the coronavirus. At a press conference in an empty CDC lab in the agency’s headquarters, the president compared the federal government’s failed efforts to boost U.S. testing for the coronavirus to the phone call which got him impeached, claimed he had “a natural ability” to understand the outbreak, attacked the governor of the worst-hit state, implied he was superficially motivated to keep the number of U.S. cases down, and asked about his Fox News ratings.
It was, in other words, another normal day for the American president — at the end of a scary, far-from-normal week in much of America. More than 270 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S. — most of them in less than a week — and many more cases are expected. Fourteen deaths from the virus in the U.S. have been reported since Sunday. And thanks to the lack of testing around the country, public officials in multiple states have been warning they still have no idea how many people have been infected or exposed.
In the last 24 hours, Trump has said he was happy that Americans would stop traveling abroad amid the global outbreak, falsely assuming it would be good for the economy. Meanwhile, Vice-President Mike Pence acknowledged that “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward,” after he and Trump had been saying the opposite. This morning, the president’s top economic adviser claimed the coronavirus was contained, and all of that follows numerous other attempts by Trump and his allies to downplay the threat of the coronavirus, falsely blame others for the botched response, and insist any evidence otherwise is part of a politically motivated attack. This afternoon at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Trump had more dis- and misinformation to share. At an event where CDC director Robert Redfield publicly thanked the president for being a “decisive” leader, Trump decided to be himself, instead.
It’s just as impressive as Ukraine
In an attempt to express confidence in the CDC’s coronavirus test (the agency’s second attempt after the first one it developed failed), Trump offered an unorthodox comparison from the last enormous crisis to swamp his presidency. The tests are just like his impeachment-causing attempt to pressure a foreign government to help him get reelected. “The tests are all perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. Right? This was not as perfect as that but pretty good,” Trump told reporters after falsely stating, again, that anyone who needed a test right now could get one.
In Trump’s defense, it’s possible he was referring to the recent CDC decision to allow COVID-19 tests to be ordered by any physician. But by invoking the Ukraine call transcript, Trump indicated he continues to see the coronavirus outbreak as a threat to his presidency at least as much as he sees it as a threat to the country.
He opposed cruise-ship evacuation because he doesn’t “need” more cases in the U.S.
The president, who has reportedly been obsessed with how the coronavirus could damage his image, appeared to acknowledge that he was trying to limit the number of reported U.S. cases in an effort to make himself look better. Referring to the quarantined passengers (including more than 20 people with confirmed COVID-19 cases) aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship near San Francisco, Trump said he opposed letting people off the ship because he liked “the numbers being where they are”:
Trump’s “natural ability” to understand epidemiology and public health emergencies
The president also bragged about how well he has been understanding the coronavirus outbreak, and he didn’t seem to be referring to his personal expertise in germophobia. “I like this stuff,” Trump insisted after explaining that his uncle spent time at MIT. The president — whose administration is notoriously anti-science — also claimed that he has been impressing others with his scientific mind. “Maybe I have a natural ability,” suggested Trump, “maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”
While it would undoubtedly have been better for U.S. public health if Donald Trump had decided to become a reality-television epidemiologist instead of a politician, he’d didn’t do a very convincing job playing a science nerd after his lab tour on Friday:
Who could have known he shouldn’t have fired the person would have known?
Asked about his administration’s efforts to downside and/or eliminate parts of the government tasked with combatting outbreaks and preparing the U.S. for a pandemic, Trump once again shrugged off the cuts as if it were not possible to predict something that has repeatedly happened in the past several hundred years.
Pence shouldn’t have said anything nice about the governor who is dealing with the worst outbreak in the country
Vice-President Pence, whom the president recently named to run the White House’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, visited Washington State on Friday and expressed solidarity with, and pledged support to, Democratic governor Jay Inslee amid the escalating crisis. This attempt to behave like a national leader during an emergency did not please the president, who had instructed Pence to not compliment Inslee in light of the governor’s criticism of their response. On Friday at the CDC, Trump made it clear he thought Pence should have retaliated against Inslee instead, calling the governor “a snake”:
This post has been updated to include additional detail and context.