President Donald Trump threatened to withhold a coronavirus vaccine from New York state on Friday and escalated his feud with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his first public comments since Joe Biden was projected the winner in the presidential race.
Trump — snapping the longest stretch of silence in his presidency — began his remarks in the White House Rose Garden by touting the effectiveness of Operation Warp Speed, his administration's initiative to spur production of a vaccine, before taking aim at his home state.
"As soon as April the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exception of places like New York state, where for political reasons the governor decided to say — and I don't think it's good politically, I think it's very bad from a health standpoint — but he wants to take his time on the vaccine," Trump said.
He was referring to comments Cuomo made in September, where he said he planned to have a panel of experts review a vaccine because he was concerned that Trump was trying to rush one out ahead of the presidential election.
"He doesn't trust where the vaccines coming from," Trump continued. "So the governor, Gov. Cuomo will have to let us know when he's ready for it, otherwise we, we can't be delivering it to a state that won't be giving it to its people, immediately. And I know many I know the people in New York very well I know they want it. So the governor will let us know when he's ready," he added.
"I hope he doesn't handle this as badly as he's handled the nursing homes. But we're ready to provide it as soon as they let us know that they'll actually use it," Trump said.
The comments came as the virus that's already killed over 244,000 in the U.S. has surged across the country in recent weeks, with spikes in infections and hospitalizations from coast-to-coast, including in New York.
Asked about Trump's comments, Cuomo told MSNBC, "None of what he said is true."
"We're all excited about the possibilities about a vaccine," Cuomo said, adding his state review panel would review the information on the vaccine at the same time as the Food and Drug Administration, and was designed to instill public confidence.
Other states are doing the same thing, he noted. "Ours is headed by a Nobel Prize Laureate who will review the FDA process so we could say to people it is safe, you should take the vaccine," Cuomo said.
In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James called Trump's threat "nothing more than vindictive behavior by a lame-duck president trying to extract vengeance on those who oppose his politics."
"Once there is a fully-developed Covid-19 vaccine, we are confident that a Biden-Harris Administration will provide New York with the proper number of doses so that our state’s residents can achieve immunity. If dissemination of the vaccine takes place in the twilight of a Trump Administration and the president wants to play games with people’s lives, we will sue and we will win," James said.
Trump took no questions and only made a passing reference to the election in his remarks, when he vowed the country would not lock down again. While doing so, he acknowledged for the first time publicly that he might not be in office much longer.
"This administration will not be going to a lockdown hopefully the, the, whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration will be, I guess time will tell, but I can tell you this administration will not go to a lockdown," Trump said.
Trump's failure to concede is already affecting his successor's plan to combat the virus by blocking his ability to communicate with government officials about their current efforts.
That has doctors close to Biden’s transition team working to develop their own plans to mass distribute a coronavirus vaccine, concerned that Trump administration planning will leave them underprepared when he leaves office.
Trump made no mention of the surge in cases, but Vice President Mike Pence did, and encouraged all Americans to "practice good hygiene, wash your hands, practice social distancing, wear a mask when that's not possible. We all have a role to play."
Trump has been seen since has last public remarks, leaving the White House to golf over the weekend and attending a Veterans Day wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
He has been very active on Twitter, where he's made numerous unfounded claims that the presidential election was "rigged" and that he actually won.
As of Friday morning, he'd sent 210 tweets or retweets since the briefing room appearance, while making no mention of the surge in coronavirus cases.
On Friday, he suggested he might make a public appearance on Saturday afternoon at a march his supporters are planning for Washington.
"Heartwarming to see all of the tremendous support out there, especially the organic Rallies that are springing up all over the Country, including a big one on Saturday in D.C. I may even try to stop by and say hello," he tweeted, adding, "This Election was Rigged."
NBC News made projections in the two outstanding states in the presidential race on Friday with Trump winning North Carolina and Biden the apparent winner in Georgia. That has Trump trailing Biden in the Electoral College vote 232 to 306. The number of votes needed to win is 270. Trump is also trailing Biden by over 5 million votes in the popular vote.
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