Trump Negates White House Defense of His ‘Slow Down the Testing’ Comment
“I don’t kid. Let me just tell you. Let me make it clear,” said President Donald Trump.
The statement came as a response to White House officials who insisted the president was simply joking when he told a rally audience that he wants COVID-19 testing slowed down on Saturday, POLITICO reported.
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases. So I said to my people ‘slow the testing down, please,’” Trump said at his Tulsa rally, his first campaign event since the coronavirus lockdown began.
Health experts and Democrats quickly jumped on the comment and Priorities USA, a progressive political action committee, even rolled out an ad using the president’s words against him, CNN reported.
“The most important job of a president is to protect the American people, but not to Donald Trump,” a narrator says in the ad before showing Trump’s quote on pumping the brakes on testing. “That’s right. Instead of working to slow the spread, Donald Trump says he slowed down the testing. Now, over 120,000 dead.”
Guy Cecil, head of Priorities USA, tweeted, “At this point, our ads are writing themselves.” The campaign team for Democratic candidate Joe Biden said it also plans to use Trump’s remark in a future campaign ad.
Trump Officials Brush Off Comments
Administration officials including Vice President Mike Pence and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany rushed to clarify Trump’s remark, according to Max Cohen reporting for POLITICOl. McEnany said an official order from Trump never came and that the president was only joking, a suggestion Trump categorically denied Tuesday.
“Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact,” McEnany said. “It was a comment that he made in jest.” At a press conference Tuesday, McEnany said Trump was “using sarcasm.”
The media, McEnany added, is quick to point out a rise in cases, but doesn’t acknowledge they are a result of increased testing. Pence echoed McEnany and added that the coronavirus remark was merely “a passing observation.”
Pence’s defense of the president came even as he reported an uptick in cases among America’s youth on Monday, ABC News reported.
“We are seeing more people test positive under the age of 35, particularly in our discussions with the leadership in Florida and in Texas,” Pence said during a conference call with state governors.
Pence was scheduled to visit Wisconsin on Tuesday ahead of Trump’s visit on Thursday. Biden’s campaign suggested the vice president had been dispatched to perform damage control, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“And once again — just days after Trump admitted he ordered COVID-19 testing to be slowed down during the middle of a global pandemic — Mike Pence is back in Wisconsin to clean up Trump’s mess,” The Biden campaign said in a statement. “While Trump’s admission was stunning and outrageous, there are few actions that have done more damage to public health than Trump’s reckless order to slow down testing.”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro joined McEnany and Pence in writing off Trump’s comment as a joke, CNN reported.
“Come on now. That was tongue in cheek,” Navarro said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. He also called it “a light moment for him at a rally.”
Democrats Want Answers
Trump’s comment, whether he was serious as he said he was or joking, prompted top Democratic senators to petition the Department of Health and Human Services for information about testing levels, North Carolina-based Fox 8 reported. In particular, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D–N.Y., Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D–Mass, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D–Conn,, asked the agency “to determine whether any programs have been ‘slowed down’ at the request of President Trump.”
Schumer and Sen. Patty Murray, D–N.J., also alleged the department is withholding $14 billion of funding allocated for testing and contact tracing, The Hill reported.
“While it has been months since these funds were first appropriated, the Administration has failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus,” they wrote to Alex Azar, HHS secretary.
In an interview with Christian Broadcast Network on Monday, Trump denied that he told the department to conduct fewer tests. However, the president contradicted himself on Tuesday when he said he wasn’t joking about slowing it down.
Ultimately, Trump said testing “makes us in a way look bad, but actually we’re doing the right thing.”