As we begin to understand the trajectory of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, one fact becomes clear: the president tried his best to downplay the problem when swift action was needed.
"We have it totally under control," the president said on January 22. "It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine."
However, public health officials told him otherwise and devised action plans which were ignored by the White House.
"These final days of February, perhaps more than any other moment during his tenure in the White House, illustrated Mr. Trump's inability or unwillingness to absorb warnings coming at him," The New York Times wrote.
As of April 20, the United States has suffered the most COVID-19 cases (788,172) and deaths (42,223), so Trump's inaction is being scrutinized by the press.
On Sunday, during a White House press briefing, President Trump lashed out at CBS reporter Weijia Jiang when she pressed him on why his administration did so little in February even though it had been warned about the upcoming pandemic.
JIANG: I had a question about something you said on Thursday, which is that you were angry because the information about the virus should have been told to us earlier. And a lot sooner people knew it was happening and people did not want to talk about it. Many Americans are saying the exact same thing about you, that you should have warned them the virus was spreading like wildfire through the month of February instead of holding rallies with thousands of people. Why did you wait so long to warn them, and why did you not have social distancing until March 16th?
TRUMP: Who are you with?
JIANG: I'm Weijia Jiang with CBS News
TRUMP: So if you look at what I did in terms of cutting off or banning China from coming in --
JIANG: Chinese nationals. But by the way, not Americans who were also coming from China.
TRUMP: Nice and easy. Nice and easy. Just relax. We cut it off. People were amazed, these gentlemen. Everybody was amazed I did it. We had 21 people in a room, everyone was against it but me. Dr. Fauci said, had I not done that perhaps tens of thousands, and maybe much more than that, people would have died. I was early. Very early.
Trump went on to say that the Democrats didn't mention the virus in the debate (fact check?).
TRUMP: How many cases were in the United States where I did my ban? How many people had died in the United States?
JIANG: Could you acknowledge that you didn't think this was going to spread?
TRUMP: Keep your voice down, please.
JIANG: Did you not think it was going to spread?
TRUMP: How many cases were in the United States? I did a ban where I'm closing up the entire country. How many people died? How many people died in the United States?
JIANG: And that's a fair point —
TRUMP: And yet I closed up the country. And I believe there were no deaths. Zero deaths. At the time I closed up the country. Nobody was there. And you should say thank you very much for good judgment.
In the exchange, Trump refuses to admit that he didn't think the virus was going to spread because if he did, it'd highlight his mishandling of the situation. Instead, he tells Jiang to keep her voice down, even though she wasn't shouting.
This isn't the first time Trump has lashed out at female reporters who have challenged him on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week, Trump berated CBS News reporter Paula Reid after she asked about his inaction.
"The time that you bought, the argument is that you didn't use it to prepare hospitals, you didn't use it to ramp up testing," Reid said. "What did you and your administration do with the time the travel ban bought you?"
Trump's response was to call her a disgrace and to use the old, tired "fake news," defense. "You know you're a fake, you know that. Your whole network, the way you cover it is fake," Trump said.
This is amazing!!
Watch Paula Reid from CBS refuse to back down, never allowing Trump to lie, or to talk over her, or to insult her. Truly amazing moment, bravo! #TrumpPressConf pic.twitter.com/udqe4mseZB
— Selena Adera (@Selena_Adera) April 13, 2020
Last month, Trump went off on PBS Newshour's Yamiche Alcindor after she questioned him on a statement he made implying that some states may not need as much medical equipment as they requested. He told Alcindor to "be nice" and to "not be threatening."
Trump may think that shouting down reporters is the best way to handle criticism, but the American people aren't buying it. A recent poll found that 65% of Americans say that Trump was too slow to take major steps to handle the virus.
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