During her presentation at the White House COVID-19 briefing on Saturday, Dr. Deborah Birx was cruising along until she waded into one of President Donald Trump and the GOP’s sorest spots: the Chinese government’s apparent undercounting of coronavirus casualties. As Birx, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, explained a slide showing COVID-19 deaths per capita for various countries, China’s was marked with an asterisk at the very bottom.
Trump, standing on the sidelines, couldn’t help but interject. “Excuse me, does anybody really believe this number?” he said, interrupting an apparently startled Birx—who then wheeled around, smiled, and coolly explained she put China’s number on the chart to demonstrate “how unrealistic this could be.”
Though Birx tried to move on, Trump still couldn’t keep quiet. He soon interrupted her again, to make a similar point, this time on the numbers shown for Iran.
“Does anyone really believe that number?” Trump asked again. “You see what’s going on over there.” He then asked to return to the previous slide and walked over to the screen, hovering and pointing incredulously to China and Iran’s numbers.
The moment was a fitting one for Saturday’s roughly 70-minute briefing, which was absent familiar figures like Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Trump did the lion’s share of the talking, veering between lambasting Democratic politicians and the media—in particular New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman—and embracing comfortable topics. He repeatedly mentioned a phone call with unnamed world leaders who, he said, had offered effusive praise for his handling of the outbreak.