At a Monday afternoon press conference, President Donald Trump addressed a question that has been plaguing Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican governors for a couple of weeks now: How can we open the country without adequate testing in place?
“We have met the moment, and we have prevailed,” Trump told masked reporters gathered on the Rose Garden lawn. “We have prevailed on testing. You never prevail when you have 90,000 or 100,000 or 80,0000 deaths and potentially millions of people are dying. We have a great capacity now and it is getting even better and nobody is close to the U.S. in the world [when it comes to COVID-19 testing]. Testing is a big important function. Some people consider it more important than others.”
Later he added, “We have now — nobody says it — by far more tests more than any other country in the world. And the quality of tests is the best in any part of the world.”
Trump tackled a variety of topics during his Monday afternoon press conference, including the murder of Georgia jogger Ahmaud Arbery — a black man who was hunted and killed by a white father and son — Chinese hackers trying to hack vaccine data, and the dreaded “Obamagate,” also known as the “biggest political crime in American history.”
But all the masked reporters seemed to really want to discuss was COVID-19 testing and how the Trump administration can reassure Americans that it is safe to go back to work when people within his administration are still testing positive for the virus. A few days ago, Vice President Mike Pence’s spokesperson, Katie Miller, tested positive for COVID-19. After repeated testing, Pence still hasn’t tested positive for the virus, Trump claimed.
Pence wasn’t at the press conference Monday afternoon.
Trump’s infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci was also missing. He and a few others are under self-quarantine since they had limited contact with Miller. Pence earlier claimed that White House medical doctors told him that he didn’t need to be quarantine, which is a departure from what the majority of doctors and the CDC recommends for the rest of the country to do if they’re exposed to the virus.
One “fake news” reporter took a vicious swing and called it a system breakdown that a White House staffer so close to Pence had contracted the virus. (It also says something about the spread of the virus.)
“I don’t suspect the system broke down,” he told the fake news reporter. “Three people were in relative contact and tested negative and [are now in a] period of time of self isolation. It can happen. It’s the hidden enemy.”
A couple of fairly aggressive reporters, who may or may not have been from fake news outlets, asked Trump how he could push to open the country when the average American doesn’t have access to COVID-19 testing like people at the White House. One reporter seemed especially perturbed when she pointed out that the White House staff has adequate access to testing while the average person who is required to return to work does not.
“They keep asking about the test,” Trump told his staff and supporters. “[At first it was], ‘Why aren’t they getting tested [at] the White House?’ Now that we are doing well on tests, they’re complaining that we get too many tests. You can’t win.”
Trump’s team reassured the masked reporters that more than 9 million tests of 92 different varieties have been conducted around the country as of May 9.
A few weeks ago, it seems only about 150,000 tests per day were being conducted. Trump said that number has now grown to 300,000 tests per day, especially after they allowed retailers like Walmart to host COVID-19 testing sites. About 240 testing sites are operating near at-risk communities around the country, and Trump’s team said they plan to open an additional 1,000 locations. One can be found at the Walmart in McKinney.
They also announced that they will be delivering $11 billion in funding to the states to help them meet their COVID-19 testing goals by making more tests available. Trump expects the number of tests conducted to continue to grow over the next few weeks. His team also plans to start monitoring asymptomatic people.
Trump claimed that the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has been “dropping very substantially.” A total of 1.3 million people have tested positive for the virus as of May 9, and 79,756 people have died, according to the CDC. About 24,000 new positive cases were reported on Mother’s Day.
The CDC reported that in the 2018-2019 influenza season, 35.5 million people contracted the virus but only 34,200 people died from it.
“They (the numbers) are way down compared to what they were two weeks ago,” Trump said. “This weekend was one of the lowest that we had, and all throughout the country, the numbers are coming down rapidly.”
Trump was surrounded by swabs and new COVID-19 testing equipment as he battled reporters at the press conference Monday afternoon. He wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves and seemed fairly confident that his team was doing the best job. He didn’t act surprised when a reporter asked him about Chinese hackers trying to hack vaccine data. “What else is new?” Trump asked.
One reporter brought up Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. Trump claimed that he had watched the video of Arbery’s murder, called it “a horrible thing,” and said it “breaks your heart to watch it.” It was a rare moment of compassion from the president until he mentioned the blind spot in the video and made reference to how we’re not sure what exactly happened in those few moments not caught on camera.
Trump didn’t delve too far into the “Obamagate” conspiracy when another reporter, who was more subtle with his aggression, asked about it.
“It has been going on before I got even elected,” Trump said, “and is a disgrace of what happened and all this information [is] being released and only beginning and never should be allowed to happen. [You’ll] see what is going on in the coming weeks.
“The crime is very obvious to everybody,” he added. “They just need to read the newspapers — except for yours.”
Obamagate has been the topic of discussion among fringe websites for years. It wasn’t known by that name until Trump went on a tweet and retweet rampage about it over Mother’s Day weekend. It seems he believes that Obama had directed “Never Trump” intelligence officials to keep Trump from winning the presidency. These officials include former FBI director James Comey and FBI agent Peter Strzok, both of whom were accused of colluding with the Democratic National Committee.
Some publications claim that Trump may be mentioning Obamagate due to the criticism he received after the Justice Department recently dropped its case against former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who was caught lying to the FBI about his calls with the Russian ambassador during Trump’s 2016 campaign. Others could probably argue that Trump was upset that former President Obama had dared criticize his COVID-19 response: “What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life,” Obama said, according to Yahoo News. “And by the way, we’re seeing that internationally as well. It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty.
“It would have been bad even with the best of governments,” he continued. “It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ … is operationalized in our government.”
Trump’s press conference ended with a vicious exchange with another reporter, who was later identified as CBS reporter Weijia Jiang.
“You said many times that the U.S. is doing far better than any other country when it comes to testing,” Jiang asked. “Why does that matter? Why is this a global competition to you if everyday Americans are still losing their lives and we’re still seeing more cases every day?”
“Well, they’re losing their lives everywhere in the world,” Trump said. “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay?”
Jiang, who was born in China but raised in the States, quickly followed up with: “Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically, to ask China?”
Trump pointed out that she had asked a “nasty question.” “I’m not saying it specifically to anybody,” he said and abruptly ended the press conference.