A meeting between President Donald Trump and health officials that was meant to reassure the public about the coronavirus instead became a sideshow in which the president praised himself, asked about television ratings and suggested sick passengers on a cruise ship stay there because he didn’t want to include them in U.S. infection numbers.
During a tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday, Trump donned a red campaign hat and boasted about himself amid an ongoing global crisis that has killed at least 3,000 people. At least 17 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus and more than 200 people in the country are infected. That number could be much higher, but the CDC has bungled its response and limited the number of diagnostic tests that can be administered.
None of these facts stopped the president from patting himself on the back as he bragged about being as smart as the public health experts tasked with handling the situation.
“People are really surprised I understand this stuff,” Trump said during a press briefing at the CDC. “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.”
He doesn’t. In fact, he has disputed a report from World Health Organization scientists that put the death rate from the virus at 3.4%.
“I think the 3.4% is really a false number,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday. “Now, and this is just my hunch, and — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this.”
In a meeting with health experts on Monday, Trump asked why doctors don’t just administer the flu vaccine to combat the virus.
“But the same vaccine could not work?” he said. “You take a solid flu vaccine — you don’t think that would have an impact or much of an impact on corona?”
It would not have an impact, the experts told him.
And when asked about infected passengers on a cruise ship anchored near San Francisco, Trump strongly indicated that he cares about bad PR — in the form of a higher number of infected Americans — above all else.
“I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump said. “And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, OK? It wasn’t their fault either, and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”
From the outset of this crisis, the Trump administration has downplayed the growing threat and obfuscated basic facts about the administration’s handling of the virus.
“It’s going to disappear,” Trump said of the coronavirus last month. “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
The virus, of course, has not just disappeared. And Trump’s pick of Vice President Mike Pence to lead the administration’s response to the health crisis isn’t exactly instilling confidence in the American public. Pence’s record on public health is best represented by the role he played in an HIV outbreak while he was governor of Indiana. The president has also spent years in office slashing the budgets of government agencies responsible for responding to the exact problem the country now faces.
Congress finally stepped in this week when the Senate approved an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to combat the virus, a day after it passed the House. But Trump seemed less impressed with the bipartisan passage and more impressed with television ratings.
“As of the time I left the plane with you we had 240 cases, that’s at least what was on a very fine network known as Fox News, don’t you love it?” he said to a Fox News reporter during his meeting with CDC officials. “That’s what I happened to be watching, and how was the show last night? Did it get good ratings by the way?”
“I don’t know,” the reporter responded.
“Oh, really, I heard it broke all ratings records, but maybe that’s wrong,” Trump said.
Lives are on the line. Americans are getting sick and some are dying. And the president continues to show that he just doesn’t really care.