President Donald Trump, flanked by members of the administration and his coronavirus task force, announced at the White House on Wednesday afternoon that home foreclosures and evictions for HUD-owned properties will be suspended “until the end of April.”
Trump added that he and his team are “working very closely” with Dr. Ben Carson and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development on the suspension, which they hope will help counteract the economic slowdown caused by the virus’ spread.
During his remarks, Trump again referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” at a time when some of his most public-facing lieutenants, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have attempted to rebrand the virus as the “Wuhan virus.”
The president also said during the briefing that he was “invoking the Defense Production Act, just in case we need it” and would be “signing it in just a little while” after Wednesday’s briefing. The law grants the federal government more authority in emergencies to influence industrial production, though Trump did not specify how he’d be wielding this power.
He also noted that the administration is working on “sending, upon request, the two hospital ships that are being prepared right now,” calling them “big white ships with the red cross on the sides.”
The president said he’d spoken to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about sending a Naval hospital ship to his state, and that officials would be picking destinations on the West Coast “fairly shortly.” He said these ships can be “launched in the next week or so” depending “on need.”
In the first questions the president took from the press pool, Trump was asked by a reporter why he continues to call the coronavirus the “Chinese Virus,” citing some of his own officials who say they’re personally declining to use the term, as well as citing reported cases of discrimination against Asian-Americans during this crisis.
Trump, unimpressed by these points, replied that “it’s not racist at all” for him to keep calling it by that term because “it comes from China, that’s why.” Later on, he likened himself to a “wartime president” facing the invisible “enemy” of the virus.
When asked about reports of celebrities and wealthier Americans getting tested amid an ongoing testing shortage in the United States, he responded that “perhaps that’s been the story of life.”
At another point, he falsely claimed that the virus had “snuck up” on him and his team as he defended his administration’s response against criticism. After stating that he does not believe that China was “inflicting” the virus on the U.S. and the rest of the world, he did say that he wishes that the Chinese government had given the U.S. government earlier advance warning.
He declined to say whether he agrees with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that China should be punished for the coronavirus’ spread and the Chinese government’s early failures in handling the outbreak.
“I know exactly what he’s been saying and there are those people that say that so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Trump was at one point asked by another reporter about his low “credibility ratings,” to which he shot back that “I see that they’re very high,” before pivoting to how he saw a recent survey that he was polling ahead of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate “Sleepy Joe Biden” in Florida.
Throughout the presser, the president continued to downplay how long his administration thinks this crisis, and the growing economic pain from it, could last. Near the end of the briefing, when asked about officials who assessed that this pandemic could go on for 18 months or longer, Trump insisted, “No, we’re not seeing that at all.”