Trump on the defensive: A White House coronavirus briefing becomes a campaign rally

Trump on the defensive: A White House coronavirus briefing becomes a campaign rally

It was a White House briefing like no other.

President Trump late Monday turned a White House briefing on the coronavirus into a fervent defense of his actions to respond to the deadly pandemic and an attack on reporters who posed skeptical questions.

"You know you're a fake, your whole network," the president snapped at Paula Reid, a White House correspondent from CBS, not responding directly to her questions about whether his administration had squandered time to prepare hospitals and ramp up testing for COVID-19. A chyron on CNN, which has been tough on fact-checking the president, read: "Trump melts down in angry response to reports he ignored virus warnings."

The extraordinary performance came amid signs of a looming showdown between the White House and some of the nation's governors about when it will be safe to reopen business and schools.

Trump or governors:Who decides when and how America reopens from its coronavirus shutdown?

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Monday, April 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ORG XMIT: DCAB361

"The president of the United States calls the shots," Trump said, although legal experts say the power to lift orders that have shut down most states rests with the governors who imposed them.

When reporters followed up with more questions, he claimed unqualified power to act, although he predicted he would be able to work cooperative with the governors.

"When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total," he said.

It is rare for the White House briefing room to be used by a president for such a fervent defense of his own actions and recounting of his grievances, especially while a national crisis is still unfolding. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11 or during the Iranian hostage crisis, for instance, then-presidents George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter generally offered reassurance and made appeals for national unity.

The combative exchanges Monday came in the wake of stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press and USA TODAY that recounted missed opportunities and slow responses by the Trump administration that probably increased the death toll from COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health on Sunday said in an interview on CNN's State of the Union that imposing mitigation measures earlier "obviously" would have saved lives.

Early in the briefing, Trump recognized Fauci, the nation's top expert on infectious diseases, who came to the podium to say he had been responding to a "hypothetical" question. Fauci said that on the two occasions he met with the president to urge mitigation steps, the president agreed. Questions about Fauci's tenure were raised when Trump shared a tweet that included the hashtag, #FireFauci.

Fauci flashed a rare look of anger at a reporter who asked if he was speaking voluntarily. "Everything I do is voluntary," he replied. "Don't even imply that."

Survey:Americans say the economy is getting worse in much larger numbers than weeks ago

Even as the briefing was still going on, Trump's re-election campaign posted on social media video of the supportive comments Fauci had made. "Dr. Fauci says President @realDonldTrump did NOT delay at all when the recommendation was made to put in place mitigation," it said in a tweet.

Trump's tone through the briefing showed the concern he and his allies feel about the criticism of his leadership on the most serious crisis of his presidency. He spoke hours after his presumptive Democratic opponent, former vice president Joe Biden, was endorsed by his last rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The briefing took on the air of a campaign event. Early on, the president aired a video that showed governors and other officials praising his actions as wise and timely – similar to a Trump campaign video that had already been released. Federal law generally bars presidents from mixing campaign appeals with official activities.

Exclusive USA TODAY poll:In four devastating weeks, Americans' fears of the coronavirus have exploded

When it was his turn to speak, Vice President Pence seemed to be trying to lower the room's temperature. He said he felt "a sense of gratitude to the American people" for following stay-at-home orders that have contributed to a leveling off in new hospitalizations.

Trump seemed unconcerned about the heat of the moment, however.

He blasted the news media for what he called unfair accounts that had raised questions about his leadership. He said that "nobody" had asked for ventilators, an inaccurate claim.

Governors warn of ventilator shortages:Trump says some are playing 'politics'

'Scotch tape and baling wire':How some hospitals are meeting ventilator shortage

When challenged, he replied, "Well, look governors should have had ventilators." At another point, he declared flatly: "Everything we did was right."

President Donald Trump points as he watches as a White House produced video plays during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Monday, April 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ORG XMIT: DCAB313


News Related


Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »