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In an unusual move he had been teasing for days, President Trump on Thursday released his recent, unaired interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” in which he complains repeatedly about the questions he is asked before abruptly ending the discussion.
“Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of ‘60 Minutes’ and CBS. Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse,” Trump tweeted late Thursday morning while posting the roughly 37-minute interview with CBS News reporter Lesley Stahl. The wide-ranging interview tackled Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his hope that the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act and the alleged plot by domestic extremists to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a frequent recipient of the president’s criticisms.
During the interview, which is still set to air Sunday on CBS, Trump grumbled about getting tough questions and said the media is backing his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
“You’re OK with some tough questions?” Stahl asked before the interview started. “No, I’m not,” Trump replied. “You don’t ask Biden tough questions.”
Trump later said, “I wish you would interview Joe Biden like you interview me. When I watch him walk out of a store. He’s in the midst of a scandal. His family is corrupt. He’s a corrupt politician. And he’s walking with an ice cream. And the question the media asks him, ‘What kind of ice cream?’ You’re like Big Tech, you’re protecting him.”
When asked about the pandemic, which has so far killed more than 220,000 people in the U.S., Trump acknowledged that coronavirus cases are rising, but attributed the surge to an increase in testing.
“If we didn’t do testing, cases would be way down,” he said.
Trump has often claimed that the U.S. is “rounding the turn” on the coronavirus, despite numbers showing an alarming spike in cases. The U.S. has had more than 8 million positive cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data. New daily cases recently topped 70,000 nationwide for the first time since July, and hospitalizations are on the rise in 39 states, with 16 approaching or exceeding all-time highs.
“We do more testing than any country in the world by far,” Trump told Stahl. “If we did half the testing, we’d have half the cases.”
Stahl also questioned Trump’s reluctance to wear a mask, and his insistence that states should open up their economies despite the continued spread of COVID-19.
“I’m not against masks at all,” Trump said, although he’s repeatedly mocked Biden for wearing a mask, including at the first debate just before the president was hospitalized for COVID-19. “I say ‘wear ’em,’ but I also say ‘socially distance,’ I say all the things.”
Trump’s belief that the media is unfair to him came up frequently, particularly when he rattled off shaky claims about his presidential campaign being spied on in 2016.
“There’s no real evidence of that,” Stahl said.
“Of course there is,” Trump replied.
Trump also attempted to discuss Biden’s son Hunter, in particular a disputed New York Post story involving a laptop that supposedly contained incriminating emails. Trump and Stahl argued at length about whether the information on the laptop could be verified.
Stahl pressed Trump on his long-promised health care plan, which has yet to materialize with just two weeks to go before the election. Trump insisted that much of the plan has been completed, and said he hoped the Supreme Court soon overturns the Affordable Care Act.
“It is developed. It’s fully developed. It’s going to be announced very soon when we see what happens with Obamacare, which is not good,” Trump said, repeating the promise of a new health care plan he’s made repeatedly during his tenure. “And it will be much less expensive than Obamacare, which is a disaster, and it will take care of people with preexisting conditions.”
When asked about those who would be stranded without health care after an ACA repeal, Trump said, “We will make a deal, and we will have a great health care plan with less expensive and a much better plan.”
Trump also accused Biden of wanting to move those on private insurance to “socialized medicine,” but in the Democratic primary, Biden campaigned explicitly against a single-payer program that would provide government-funded health care for all Americans. Biden is instead proposing a “public option” that would allow people the option of buying into a government plan.
Trump pointed to the plan he rolled out last month that he said would protect people with preexisting conditions from losing coverage. But White House officials said at the time that his “protections” for preexisting conditions would not actually be law should the ACA be repealed, but were instead a “defined statement of U.S. policy.”
If the ACA is overturned by the Supreme Court, a “defined statement of policy” does not provide a legal mechanism to prevent insurance companies from refusing coverage to those with preexisting conditions, or charging so much as to make it unaffordable in practice.
During the interview, Trump also said he wasn’t familiar with reports about the alleged plan to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat he’s criticized repeatedly for her response to the pandemic.
“I don’t know anything about the plot, but I can tell you this: It was our Justice Department who was helping her,” he said. “My Justice Department, if you call it that. … People aren’t liking her so much.”
Even as he criticized Whitmer and called her lockdown measures “disgraceful,” Trump denied he had “gone after” her. The president then said the Democratic governors in the swing states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina should also open up their states, but “carefully,” stating that their lockdown measures intended to slow the spread are a “disservice.”
When an offscreen staffer noted that Stahl had five minutes left with Trump, the president then ended the interview. “I think we have enough of an interview here,” he said.
The “60 Minutes” interview then continued with Vice President Mike Pence, which Trump also posted. Stahl sounded frustrated toward the end of the interview, telling Pence that he had “insulted” the venerable CBS News program by giving “speeches” instead of answering questions.
“This was not just a campaign speech to the public,” she said. “This was supposed to be an interview. The same with the president. And I feel that you both have insulted 60 Minutes, by not answering any of our questions and by giving campaign speeches, that we’ve heard both of you give at rallies, without answering our questions.”
Pence then asked Stahl: “What question haven’t I answered?”
“You didn’t answer any of my questions, you just gave speeches,” Stahl said.
Pence continued to insist that he had answered “every single one” of Stahl’s questions.
In a statement, CBS News said it still plans to air the interview on Sunday.
“The White House’s unprecedented decision to disregard their agreement with CBS News and release their footage will not deter ‘60 Minutes’ from providing its full, fair and contextual reporting which presidents have participated in for decades,” the statement said.
During the interview, Stahl asked Trump why he seeks to discredit the media. In 2018, she said that Trump had admitted to her during a 2016 interview that he tries to discredit the media so people won’t believe negative stories about him.
“You’ve discredited yourself,” Trump replied.
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