A day after finally appearing to acknowledge the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic and the massive loss of American lives, President Donald Trump began his latest White House briefing on Wednesday by shifting the focus to drug cartels and at one point boasting about being “number one” on Facebook.
“As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there's a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain, and we must not let that happen," Trump said. “We will never let that happen.”
Trump then announced that the United States was starting “enhanced counter narcotics operations in the western hemisphere,” in an effort to “protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics.”
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” Trump said.
The president also used the briefing to return to some earlier themes that have proven popular among his base: the border wall and “all the caravans” of undocumented immigrants he recalled had tried to travel to the U.S.
At one point, when asked about reports of a surge in domestic violence amid the pandemic, he appeared to mishear the question as instead being about “Mexican violence.”
When asked at one point during the briefing about tweeting, Trump couldn’t keep from patting himself on the back over his social media following.
“It's social media, it gets out. I have hundreds of millions of people,” Trump said. “Number one on Facebook. Did you know I was number one on Facebook? I just found out I'm number one on Facebook. I thought that was very nice, for whatever it means. ”
It was left uncertain in what category the president believed he was number one.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Trump continued to back away from comparing the novel coronavirus to the flu, despite having continued to make the association last week while he fretted about the American economy.
When asked what changed his thinking, Trump said it was the severity of the virus and “the violence of it.”
“I think also in looking at the way the contagion, it is contagious, nobodies ever seen anything like this where large groups of people all of a sudden just by being in the presence of somebody have it,” Trump said. "The flu has never been like that. Flu is contagious but nothing like we've ever seen here.”
“If it hits the right person, that person's in deep trouble,” Trump said.
Both Republican and Democratic state leaders across the country have issued stay-at-home orders, but the president was unwilling Wednesday to force that on state leaders, despite some governors avoiding taking the statewide action until outcry built in their states.
"There are some states that are different," Trump said. "There are some states that don't have much of a problem. Well, they don't have (the) problem. They don't have thousands of people that are positive...thousands of people that even think they might have it, or hundreds of people in some cases."
So instead Trump called for "a little bit of flexibility."
“A state in the Midwest, or if Alaska, as an example, doesn't have a problem, it's awfully tough to say “close it down,” Trump said.
He also continued to complain about inheriting “a very broken system” when officials were asked about issues with testing.
“We inherited bad tests,” Trump said. “We really inherited bad tests. These are horrible tests and it was all broken and we fixed it. And we're doing millions of tests.”