President Donald Trump left Friday’s coronavirus task force briefing without taking a single question just a day after stunning medical experts by using the daily briefing to float bizarre and dangerous ideas about possible coronavirus treatments, like injecting disinfectants.
Reporters tried to shout questions at the president to no avail Friday as Trump ended what was an abnormally short briefing. The entire briefing, which featured Trump talking at the start, lasted roughly 20 minutes.
With Trump at the helm, the coronavirus briefings have often been unwieldy affairs, sometimes running to almost two hours long and featuring sparring matches between reporters and the president. Trump has appeared to relish the daily confrontations with the press, and has gushed on Twitter about the briefings garnering high TV ratings.
However, a White House official confirmed to The Daily Beast that talks had been underway “for a while” to thin out the briefings and that Trump had appeared “more receptive” recently to the idea of not dominating each one. But the official said that staffers do not know exactly when he’ll start fading himself out.
“Up to the president,” the official said.
Trump has been told by several top advisers repeatedly that the way the briefings are currently conducted could in fact be inadvertently helping the poll numbers of former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s likely 2020 general election rival.
Still, whatever their private counsel, few, if any, administration officials, surrogates, outside allies, or Trump confidants were eager to go on the record to convey any relief to the possible end to Trump’s relentless domination of the briefings. Some administration officials feared doing so would anger the president and risk having him double-down on holding daily marathon performances. Others simply shrugged it off as just another thing that was up to Trump’s discretion and impulses.
“The president has the best instincts for how to manage his public appearances,” Ed Brookover, a former senior Trump adviser during the 2016 run, tersely noted on Friday evening.
During Thursday’s briefing, Trump used an “emerging result” from the Department of Homeland Security that showed sunlight and heat can weaken the spread of coronavirus to pose frightening questions about dangerous coronavirus treatments.
At one point, he asked Bill Bryan, who leads the science and technology directorate at DHS, whether UV light could be used to help people with the virus, whether sunlight could be brought “inside the body,” or whether disinfectant materials could be injected into bodies or used to cleanse bodies in the same way they disinfect surfaces.
“So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light and I think you said that hasn't been checked but you’re going to test it? And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way,” Trump said, adding it “sounds interesting.”
After Bryan said that bleach and isopropyl alcohol kill the virus on surfaces quickly, Trump pondered: “And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks [the virus] out [from a surface] in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that [by] injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets on the lungs and it does a tremendous number?”
His suggestions were immediately slammed by medical experts, federal health agencies and even bleach manufacturers, who pleaded with people not to ingest bleach.
The president later backtracked on Friday, claiming he was being “sarcastic.” “I was asking the question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen,” he told reporters at the White House.
Amidst the outcry from the medical community, Democrats went after Trump over the dangerous concepts he was floating during a briefing that is intended to provide Americans with helpful information during the deadly pandemic.
Biden took aim at him on Twitter Thursday night. “UV light? Injecting disinfectant? Here’s an idea, Mr. President: more tests. Now. And protective equipment for actual medical professionals,” he tweeted
A follow up tweet Friday was even simpler. “I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach,” he wrote.
Neither Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force response coordinator, or Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared at Friday’s briefing.
Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, briefly spoke at the start of the briefing but wasn’t at the podium long enough to be asked out about the president’s outlandish suggestions from the day before.
He took one question from a reporter on the topic of faulty antibody tests. And Vice President Mike Pence gave a presentation detailing progress in different states. But after he was finished, the briefing wrapped and officials cleared the room immediately.
Axios reported minutes after Friday’s briefing ended that Trump could cease his daily presence at the briefings in favor of less lengthy stops when he does attend.