The White House coronavirus briefing was shorter than any all week — just over an hour — but it also left lingering questions of whether hospitals will get the ventilators, masks, gowns and other badly needed medical equipment as coronavirus cases escalate.
And as usual, President Donald Trump had a few tiffs over reporters’ questions.
CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang asked Trump about a comment that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, made at the previous days briefing. As he outlined steps the White House was taking to improve the supply chain, he said, “You have instances where in cities, they are running out but the state still has a stockpile. And the notion of the federal stockpile is it is supposed to be our stockpile. It is not supposed to be the state stockpile that they then use.”
The comment caused some confusion and some puzzlement, as it raised the question of whether the federal government was for some reason holding back its reserve of medical equipment in the midst of a national emergency.
After Jiang asked Trump’s what Kushner meant when he said “our stockpile,” Trump lashed out at her.
“Why are you asking me? What’s that a gotcha? A gotcha? You use the word ‘our.’ Our — you know what our means? The United States of America,” he said. “That’s what it means. Our. Our. The United States of America. Then we take that our and we distribute it to the states.”
He added, “The federal government needs it too, not just the states. …As example, we have 10,000 ventilators and we are going to rock with those ventilators, and we are going to bring them to various areas of the country that need them. But when he says ‘our’ he’s talking about our country. He’s talking about the federal government. It’s such a basic simple question and you try and make it sound so bad. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. … Don’t make it sound bad. You just asked your question in a very nasty tone.”
She also tried to ask him why, in the wake of Kushner’s comment, the Strategic National Stockpile website was changed to more clearly mirror his comments. But Trump went on to another question.
The whole issue of whether hospitals will have enough equipment will be front and center in the coming weeks, as projections show that the pandemic is expected to peak in mid-April. But Trump has said repeatedly that shortages are not the blame of his administration, but of the individual states who did not adequately prepare for a pandemic.
When ABC News’ chief White House correspondent Jon Karl asked the president whether he could assure New York that they will have enough ventilators, given that the governor has warned that the supply would run out in the next six days, Trump said, “They should have had more ventilators at the time. They should have had more ventilators.”
“We have a lot of states that have to be taken care of, much more so than others,” he said. “We have worked very well with the governor. We happen to think is well served with ventilators. We are going to find out. But we have other states to take care of.”
Earlier on Friday, Cuomo said that he was signing an executive order to allow the state to take ventilators from hospitals and other medical facilities so that they can be redistributed to where they are needed the most.
Trump also was defensive about his administration’s response to the crisis. CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta asked why, if the administration was preparing for a pandemic, “Why is it we don’t have enough masks? Why is it we don’t have enough medical equipment in this country?”
Trump blamed his predecessors. “The previous administration — the shelves were empty. So what you should do is speak to the people from the previous administration, Jim, and ask them that question. And you know what else? The military shelves were also empty. We had no ammunition.”
Trump has made the ammunition claim before, and The Washington Post fact checker gave it three Pinocchios. He’s also contended that the shelves of the national stockpile were empty, but Factcheck.org has deemed that false. Critics also quickly ask why, if the shelves were bare, they weren’t restocked in the three years that Trump has been in office.
The briefing was dominated by other news — including new Centers for Disease Control recommendations that Americans wear cloth masks (not medical masks) in public. Trump emphasized that the recommendation was voluntary, and that he himself won’t be wearing one.
Trump also was asked whether scientific modeling, showing a projected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from coronavirus in the U.S., has changed. Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said that the models continue to be updated.
Then Trump interjected, “The model show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die. You know what I want to do? I want to come way under the model.”
Then, he added an aside, quickly picked up on Twitter but open to interpretation: “The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model — at least, this kind of model.’”
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