WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump’s pause in holding White House coronavirus briefings only lasted the weekend as he took center stage in the Rose Garden on Monday to promote what he called a major expansion in testing for the virus.
Trump’s advisers have been arguing that the sessions, held nearly every day for more than a month, had begun to show him in an unfavorable light, particularly after Thursday when he asked his health experts whether disinfectants that kill the virus on surfaces might be used in patients as a treatment.
After his disinfectant comment he claimed it was sarcasm aimed at journalists during the news conference, although he’d clearly been talking directly to his medical advisors, not the journalists, and there was no sarcasm apparent in his voice.
Over the weekend, he also used the sarcasm defense to explain a bizarre tweet in which he told journalists whom he believes treat him unfairly to give back their “Noble Prizes.”
When the Twitterverse lit up with questions about why Trump was misspelling the Nobel Prize, which is not even awarded to journalists, and whether he really had meant to say the Pulitzer Prize, the president complained: “Does sarcasm ever work?”
Early Monday, Trump kept up the anti-media tweet storm, writing: “FAKE NEWS, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
“There has never been, in the history of our Country, a more vicious or hostile Lamestream Media than there is right now, even in the midst of a National Emergency, the Invisible Enemy!” Trump also wrote.
Yet another tweet on Saturday fed rumors that Trump was going to shut down the briefings altogether.
“What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately,” Trump wrote, adding his frequent refrain that he got “record ratings.”
Some Republicans fear Trump is doing his re-election prospects more harm than good with appearances that often turn into harangues against reporters, and have watched his approval numbers drop at a time when they should be gaining steam.
On Monday, aides said Trump wanted to talk about new coronavirus testing guidelines, as the administration tries to fill a need demanded by governors and business leaders as states move toward reopening their economies.
Battling against Democratic accusations that he has not done enough to expand testing, Trump brought on stage executives from major retailers that are having tests done on their properties and heads of companies that are producing testing equipment.
“We are continuing to rapidly expand our capacity and confident we have enough testing to begin reopening and the reopening process. We want to get our country open and the testing is not going to be a problem at all,” Trump said.
Senior administration officials said the federal government is sending enough swabs and related equipment to all 50 states to cover their entire testing objectives for the months of May and June.
This will allow the screening of at least 2 percent of the population, the officials said.
“We’ll be doing many more tests in May and June than we’ve done cumulatively to date,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. About 5.4 million tests have been conducted thus far.
“The hope is that by fall we’ve got so many tests that we’re swimming in tests,” the official said.
Trump’s advisers inside and outside the White House have been urging him to scale back his participation in the coronavirus news briefings, arguing it would make him look more in command by appearing in fewer.
White House officials said future briefings will shift more toward the economic reopening.
Republicans increasingly see restoring economic growth in June as critical to improving Trump’s re-election prospects in November.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the briefings might have a new look and a new focus.
“But I would not read into that anything that said we see them as negative because in fact we think that they have been a very positive, helpful opportunity for the president to speak to the American people,” she said outside the White House.
The briefings, which can often stretch to two hours, have featured health experts giving updates on the federal government’s efforts to fight the outbreak that has killed more than 56,000 people in the United States.
They have also become a platform for Trump to put forth his own theories on the coronavirus and potential cures, or to attack his political enemies.
An international chorus of doctors, health experts and manufacturers of the products urged people not to drink or inject disinfectant after he mused on Thursday about the potential use of disinfectants as a treatment for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
“We’re looking at different ways to showcase this president leading,” she told Fox News.
McEnany suggested a shift “to showcase (to) the American people the great entrepreneurship of this president.”
“I’m not going to get ahead of what the briefings will look like this week. They may have a different look,” she said.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.