President Donald Trump on Tuesday insisted he was serious when he revealed that he had directed his administration to slow coronavirus testing in the United States, shattering the defenses of senior White House aides who argued Trump’s remarks were made in jest.
“I don’t kid. Let me just tell you. Let me make it clear,” Trump told reporters, when pressed on whether his comments at a campaign rally Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., were intended as a joke.
“We have got the greatest testing program anywhere in the world. We test better than anybody in the world. Our tests are the best in the world, and we have the most of them. By having more tests, we find more cases,” he continued.
Administration officials as high ranking as Vice President Mike Pence have scrambled in recent days to clean up Trump’s statements on Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., where he reprised his dubious logic regarding testing rates before an arena of supporters.
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people,” Trump said during the rally. “You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro suggested Sunday the president never issued such an explicit directive, telling CNN Trump’s remarks were “tongue in cheek.”
“It was a comment that he made in jest,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany added at a news briefing Monday, saying: “Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact.”
Even Pence sought to manage the political fallout, telling governors during a conference call Monday that Trump’s testing comments were merely a “passing observation,” according to a CBS News report.
But in an interview Monday with Scripps Networks, Trump did not deny asking his administration to curtail coronavirus testing and instead contended that “if we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases.”
More than 120,000 Americans have already died as a result of Covid-19, and the total number of confirmed infections nationwide has surged beyond 2.3 million. Although public health experts universally agree the U.S. needs more coronavirus testing, not less, Trump remained adamant in his reasoning Tuesday.
“Here’s what I say: Testing is a double-edged sword,” he told reporters. “In one way, it tells you you have cases. In another way, you find out where the cases are, and you do a good job. We are doing a great job. We have never been credited for it. We’re doing the best testing job anywhere in the world.”
Those remarks by the president, as he prepared to depart for Arizona, came roughly an hour before Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, and other senior health officials within the administration were scheduled to testify before Congress about the ongoing pandemic.
Last week, Trump deemed coronavirus testing to be “overrated” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, and in March he memorably expressed reluctance to evacuate passengers aboard a cruise ship marooned off the coast of California that had been stricken with a Covid-19 outbreak.
“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump said at the time, referring to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S.