President Donald Trump’s gripes with the media and his political opponents took center stage on Monday during the daily White House coronavirus briefing following a weekend of tough reporting on his administration’s handling of the pandemic.
“Everything we did was right,” Trump told reporters, after playing a campaign-style video defending the White House’s response to the crisis.
Within the briefing’s first few minutes, the president called on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who used the appearance to reframe comments he made in an interview that aired Sunday in which he suggested there was administration “pushback” to implementing necessary public health policies earlier during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There wasn’t anyone saying ‘no you shouldn’t do this,'” Fauci said, calling his earlier comments a “poor choice of words.”
“The first and only time that I went in and said we should do mitigation strongly, the response was ‘yes, we’ll do it,'” he added.
Fauci had said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that earlier steps to limit public interaction could have saved lives.
“Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different,” Fauci said in the interview. “But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down.”
Fauci’s remarks come a day after Trump retweeted a call for him to be fired, though the White House earlier on Monday pushed back on the suggestion that the president had considered seeking his removal.
With the president standing nearby, Fauci was asked if he had been forced to clarify his remarks.
“Everything I do is done voluntarily,” Fauci responded. “Please don’t even imply that.”
The president also appeared to state incorrectly that he, rather than governors and local officials, had the authority to order states and cities to end public health measures that have closed businesses and curtailed other activity.
“When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total,” he said.
The lack of any new information about the coronavirus task force’s response during first half-hour of the briefing, which was focused almost entirely on the president’s complaints about tough news coverage and critical remarks by political opponents, prompted networks such as CNN and MSNBC to cut off live coverage of the event.
The president’s complaints echoed his response over the weekend on social media slamming reporters, Democrats and other perceived foes over complaints that he was being unfairly criticized for his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.