The president was moments into a briefing that before long would become filled with familiar Trump mistakes and hyperbole when the scene was disrupted by something new, unexpected, and imminently concerning: a Secret Service agent who soon whisked the president and his staff from the briefing room.
What became clear, only after the president returned to the briefing room later, was that there had been a shooting nearby, one that the president dubbed “an actual shooting,” that he said resulted in someone being taken to the hospital after apparently being shot by the U.S. Secret Service.
But, after focusing on the shooting and taking a few questions on it, Trump returned to normal as he went through his coronavirus talking points. He trudged through the briefing as usual, touting vaccine candidates for the coronavirus pandemic, trumpeting his recent executive actions, calling on schools to reopen, and attacking former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential race
“I didn’t even think about not coming back,” Trump told reporters when asked why he came back to the briefing after the worrying scene.
He was only able to provide scant details of the incident.
“The suspect is now on the way to the hospital,” Trump told reporters. “I can’t tell you the condition of the suspect. There was nobody else injured. There was no other law enforcement injured.”
Violent incidents involving the Secret Service are infrequent but not unheard of. An agent shot a Pennsylvania man in May 2016 when the man approached the 17th and E streets NW gate while carrying a .22 caliber gun. An off-duty agent shot a dog in a controversial incident in Brooklyn in January.
Efforts to improperly access the White House grounds are more common, and the Secret Service arrested three people for scaling the fence in 2017 alone. Among the more serious incidents in the past decade were the shots fired at the building while then-President Barack Obama was away in November 2011, and a white minivan a woman crashed into the 17th and E streets gate in February 2018.
When a reporter asked if Trump was concerned that the incident had come close enough that he had to be removed from the briefing room, he said he didn’t believe anything had been breached.
As the president’s briefing continued, the Secret Service tweeted confirmation that “there has been an officer involved shooting at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. Law enforcement officials are on the scene. More information to follow.”
Just before 8 p.m. the Secret Service gave an update, tweeting: “A male subject and a USSS officer were both transported to a local hospital. At no time during this incident was the White House complex breached or were any protectees in danger.”
It didn’t take long before Trump tried to push the strangeness of the start of the briefing away as he returned to his familiar comforts. He mused about possible sites for his presidential nomination acceptance speech, which he had earlier tweeted were down to “the Great Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the White House.”
When one reporter asked Trump if he would have called on Obama to resign if he had been president when 160,000 people died as they already have in the United States during the pandemic, Trump answered, “No, I wouldn’t have done that,” before declaring he thought “it’s been amazing what we’ve been able to do.”
If the country hadn’t shut down, he said, there could have been 1.5 million to 2 million people “already dead.” Trump added, “We’ve called it right, now we don’t have to close it, we understand the disease,” though the virus continues to kill and spread throughout the United States.
“Nobody understood it because nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” Trump said. “The closest thing is in 1917, they say, right, the great pandemic certainly was a terrible thing where they lost anywhere from 50 to 100 million people. Probably ended the Second World War, all the soldiers were sick. That was a terrible situation.”
World War II began in 1939, while the pandemic he’s pointing to started in 1918.
The president concluded things bizarrely by indulging in the Trump-era equivalent of comfort food, taking a question from One America News Network that allowed him to vent conspiracies about the Obama administration and criticize Susan Rice. The former national security adviser is considered a possible choice to become Biden’s vice presidential nominee.
“Frankly, if he chooses her that’s fine,” Trump said before ending one of his strangest briefings yet. “But that’s a potential liability.”