The president held another Very Normal Press Conference Friday in the Rose Garden. He announced a public-private partnership with a parade of CEOs representing many of America's largest corporations in order to boost the nation's testing capacity for the novel coronavirus. This should have happened at least a week ago, and we now know Trump long resisted expanding the screening because it would "bring the numbers up," which he felt did not serve him politically. That matches up with his public rhetoric about the emerging pandemic up until this week. Often, he could be found downplaying the threat, suggesting people were going to work while sick—no big deal!—and claiming we were about to have a vaccine. None of that was true.
Still, Wall Street seemed to like that massive American corporations are now in charge. That may have been the point of all this, considering the presser kicked off at 3:30 p.m. and markets closed at 4:00. Despite some bizarro ad-libbing, and his insistence on shaking hands with as many people as possible—classic pandemic protocol—the president mostly held it together until the Q&A section, which, surely coincidentally, occurred after markets closed. That's where the really weird stuff began.
NPR's Yamiche Alcindor asked the president whether he bears any responsibility for the slow American response, particularly in terms of testing. "I don't take responsibility at all," the American president said. The buck stops that-a-way.
Asked if he takes responsibility for lag in testing, Pres. Trump says, "No, I don't take responsibility at all."— ABC News (@ABC) March 13, 2020
"We were given a set of circumstances...it wasn't meant for this kind of an event with the kind of numbers that we're talking about." https://t.co/KRAabMVMhN pic.twitter.com/FXwbrRrUoS
This is not a great presidential slogan. It looks an awful lot like the content of a future negative campaign ad. Luckily, Alcindor was there to follow up on the notion the President of the United States bears no responsibility for a slow response to a pandemic disease. She asked whether the fact his administration defenestrated the White House pandemic response team and never replaced them might have something to do with it. Here is how he reacted to that.
"It's a nasty question," Donald Trump says to @Yamiche when she asks if he takes responsibility for eliminating an office dedicated to pandemic prevention. Trump claims he doesn't know anything about it.— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 13, 2020
The president considers it "nasty" to ask him about decisions his own administration made. Again, however, he tried to pass the buck, suggesting the decision was made without his approval. Is he suggesting that he's not aware of major strategic decisions made in his own White House? While this is almost undeniably the case, it reflects on him about as well as a soundbite in which he says, "I don't take responsibility at all."
And finally, when asked why he hasn't gotten tested after a picture emerged of him next to an aide to the Brazilian President who tested positive, the president said he doesn't know the guy and only took a quick picture with him. You know, that fundamental rule of pandemics: you can't catch disease from a stranger.
God help us all. Have a great weekend.
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