Members of President Trump’s New Jersey golf club derailed a Friday press conference with him to jeer at a reporter who confronted the president about COVID-19 deaths and noted that the guests themselves weren’t wearing masks.
The moment arose after Trump repeated the lie that the new coronavirus pandemic, which he continually referred to as “the China virus,” would “disappear” and that it was already on track to do so. COVID-19 cases are actually rising across the country.
A reporter pushed Trump about his well-documented habit of downplaying the virus: “You said that the pandemic is disappearing, but we lost 6,000 Americans this week, and just in this room, you have dozens of people not following the guidelines in New Jersey ... ”
Trump’s supporters at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster began booing before the reporter could finish his sentence, and the president shot back at the journalist: “No, they don’t have to. It’s a political activity. You’re wrong on that because they have exceptions for political activity. It’s also a peaceful protest.”
To deafening cheers from his country club guests, Trump claimed that “it looks like they all have masks on” and pointed to “an exclusion in the law.”
“It says, ‘Peaceful protests or political activity.’ You can call that political activity, but I’d call it peaceful protest because they heard you were coming up, and they know the news is fake. They understand it better than anybody,” he said, as his supporters cheered him on again.
New Jersey coronavirus regulations state, “Indoor gatherings must be limited to 25 people or 25 percent of a room's capacity—whichever number is lower. All attendees at indoor gatherings must wear face coverings and stay six feet apart.” Though Trump claimed his guests were wearing masks, numerous photos from the presser showed a crowd of guests without masks on.
CNN reported the conflict between Trump’s guests and the press may have been less than spontaneous. A live mic reportedly caught Trump telling his guests before the press conference, “You’ll get to meet the fake news tonight. You’ll get to see what I have to go through. Who’s there? Oh all my killers are there, wow. So you’ll get to see some of the people that we deal with every day.”
Trump has been reluctant to wear a face mask at public appearances, only donning one publicly in mid-July after 130,000 Americans had died of COVID-19. He’s promoted pseudoscience about their ineffectiveness, and Republican politicians across the country have followed his lead. Public health experts across the world agree that face coverings help slow the spread of the coronavirus. In recent weeks, he’s recast his response and said that those who wear face masks are patriotic for protecting fellow citizens.