President Trump drew harsh criticism this weekend for his freewheeling remarks about the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 120,000 Americans, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracking data.
At a campaign kickoff rally in Tulsa, Okla, Trump blamed spikes in coronavirus tests on increased testing, which he labeled a “double-edged sword.”
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You're going to find more cases! So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’” Trump exclaimed.
The White House said Trump was joking — a defense it has frequently deployed for his controversial remarks over the years.
Trump held the rally despite concerns of local officials that the indoor event could spread the deadly virus. In his speech to an audience that largely went without masks, Trump downplayed concerns about the coronavirus and even referred to it as “Kung flu.”
“121,000 Americans are dead,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., tweeted in response. “Donald Trump’s response is to make racist jokes.”
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Sunday that Trump’s testing remark was born of “frustration” and that he had not been instructed to slow it down.
“I believe we've tested over 25 million Americans. We've tested more than any other country in this world. Instead, the press and others, all they want to focus on is an increasing case count,” Wolf said.
Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said Trump’s “debacle of a rally” would be remembered for the testing comment. She also noted that the Trump campaign had rally attendees sign a liability waiver acknowledging risks of virus exposure. (His campaign said a half-dozen staff members for the event tested positive for the coronavirus.)
“I think the most damning thing from that rally ... was in fact the president’s admission that he, quote-unquote, said to his people to ‘slow down the testing,’” Sanders said on “Fox News Sunday.”
She continued: “This is an appalling attempt to lessen the numbers only to make him look good. And so, I think that’s what will be remembered long after last night’s debacle of a rally.”
Fox host Chris Wallace then cited the White House defense but didn’t seem to find the comment humorous.
“Well, let me just point out, they say that it was a joke. And it didn’t seem particularly — well, let me just point out, that’s what they said,” Wallace noted.
CNN “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper was even less convinced after his Sunday interview with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who repeatedly called Trump’s testing comment “tongue-in-cheek” when asked about it.
“You can choose to believe White House adviser Peter Navarro, who just told me that was ‘tongue-in-cheek.’ But first of all, nearly 120,000 Americans are dead from the coronavirus; this is not a particularly amusing subject,” Tapper told CNN viewers after the interview.
“And second, frankly, the president has said things like this before,” Tapper continued, pointing to Trump’s March comments expressing concern that letting coronavirus-infected cruise ship passengers disembark in the U.S. could spike the case numbers. “Once again, the president is revealing that he seems to see this primarily as a public relations crisis, not as a deadly pandemic.”
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