President Donald Trump took over Monday’s White House task force briefing to lash out at critics and the press with a bizarre video that amounted to a campaign ad, before later declaring his authority is “total” if governors disagree with him during the coronavirus pandemic.
Monday’s unprecedented press briefing began to go off the rails with the video, but before the end, the president was falsely trumpeting definitive authority during the health-care crisis that has already led to the deaths of more than 23,000 Americans.
The briefing almost immediately devolved into the president airing widespread grievances against his critics, from his likely 2020 general election opponent Joe Biden to governors and reporters who have dared to call his virus response into question over the last few weeks as American life has ground to a halt during the pandemic.
In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to a campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite pastime of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.
An agitated and indignant president pointed at the seated press corps, telling them that while he’d answer some questions after airing his montage of coronavirus praise that maybe “I’ll ask you some questions because you’re so guilty.”
Both CNN and MSNBC, which have wavered between airing the increasingly antagonistic briefings, both cut away during the multi-minute campaign ad. The networks, however, came back to broadcast the performance after a short break.
The president’s reaction to the pandemic has attracted widespread criticism, and Trump has shown a growing sensitivity to public rebukes of his response.
“It’s very sad when people write false stories,” Trump said after the clip ended, before lambasting The New York Times.
“If you had libel laws they would have been out of business even before they’ll end up going out of business,” Trump said of one of the most credible news sources in America.
When a reporter pressed him about the video resembling a campaign ad, Trump said it was done in the office. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” he said.
The president also claimed that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino created the video, prompting reporters to question the fact that he had government employees put together what was essentially a campaign advertisement.
“I would not say produced, I would say clips,” Trump nonsensically explained. “That is to keep you honest. I do not think it will work, have any impact. You heard the clips, heard what I said.”
Media Matters noted on Twitter that press clips featured in the first part of the video also appeared in the same sequence during a March 26 episode of the Fox News show Hannity.
Trump, visibly angry, continued to defend his response to the pandemic during the presser, insisting, “everything we did was right.”
The Democratic party quickly attacked the president’s words and how they played out in the backdrop of a health crisis.
“More than 20,000 Americans have died, hospitals and states still can’t get the supplies they need, testing is failing, and instead of updating Americans on the coronavirus pandemic, Trump commandeered the briefing to run campaign propaganda to sooth his small ego and pathetically try to cover up for his own failed response,” DNC Deputy War Room Director Daniel Wessel said in an emailed statement. “It won’t work, and the American people deserve better.”
The president, meanwhile, went on to insist he has absolute power when it comes to governors’ stay-at-home orders during the crisis. Asked on Monday how he would respond if a governor issued a stay-at-home order in conflict of his national wishes, Trump insisted his power as president is “total.”
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that is the way it’s gonna be,” Trump bellowed. “It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that.”
The president reiterated that assertion throughout the rest of the marathon briefing. After CNN’s Kaitlan Collins pushed back, saying it wasn’t true that Trump’s authority is total, the president said they were “going to write papers on this” but that it won’t be necessary because the governors “need us one way or the other because ultimately it comes with the federal government.”
When further asked if any governors had agreed that he has the authority to force them to reopen, Trump said that he didn’t ask anybody because, “I don’t need to.”
Even before Trump began the briefing Monday, the last 24 hours were a whirlwind for the White House. On Sunday, Trump quote tweeted a social media post with the #FireFauci hashtag, boosting fringe criticisms about Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Trump’s retweet came on the heels of Fauci, during a CNN appearance, saying that there was a “lot of pushback” early on by the Trump administration on initiating social-distancing restrictions and that lives could have been saved if they had acted earlier.
The top infectious disease expert, however, began Monday’s briefing by walking back his comments, saying he used a “wrong choice of words” when he told CNN that there was “pushback” within the administration to start shutdowns. Fauci grew visibly upset when a reporter asked if he was clarifying his remarks “voluntarily.”
“Everything I do is voluntarily,” he fumed. “Please. Don’t even imply that.”
As the briefing continued to run amok from its actual purpose for the American public, Trump declared he likes Fauci and made it clear he’s not firing him. “I retweeted somebody, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter,” he added.
As the briefing went on, Trump continued to champion his administration’s response, then turned to the governors, noting that some are Democrats, before adding that “many of them didn’t do their jobs.”
“I’ll let you know someday, let’s see what happens,” Trump said.
Still, even with the U.S. death count continuing to climb higher, the president’s main focus continued to be owning liberals and trying to re-shift focus to his displeasure with news coverage. And numerous Trump allies and staffers were delighted for the chance to capitalize on Trump’s tantrum.
Mid-briefing, a senior Trump campaign official told The Daily Beast that they were already brainstorming ways to fundraise off of the president’s performance at the Monday press briefing.
“Trump brought his A game tonight. He’s on the offensive and ‘media’ melts,” tweeted Laura Ingraham, a Fox News host and informal Trump adviser.
“CNN can’t handle the truth,” Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to Trump and his 2020 campaign, enthusiastically posted to Twitter during the televised briefing.
Asked Monday night if he thought briefings like this would help President Trump’s numbers in, for instance, crucial states, John McLaughlin, a top Trump pollster who said he had watched the Monday briefing live, replied, “yes.”
“President Trump is leading the nation in the war against the virus. But the liberal media has decided to join the Democratic opposition and parrot their political attacks. People can see that clearly during the briefings,” McLaughlin continued. “The briefings are the president’s opportunity to set the record straight. They definitely help him. It’s why the opposition and anti-Trump media wanted them censored.”
Public polling, however, has often painted a different picture, with Trump’s numbers on his handling of the ongoing crisis dropping significantly in various recent surveys, despite his series of marathon coronavirus briefings and rantings that frequently seem designed in large part to excite his base of supporters.