Trump falsely claims he never said US could test 5m a day for Covid-19 ‘very soon’
President’s federal coronavirus testing chief said hours earlier that ‘there is absolutely no way on Earth’ US could hit that testing target
Donald Trump on Wednesday backed away from a vow made less than 24 hours earlier that the United States “very soon” would be able to test up to 5m people per day for coronavirus, falsely contending he never uttered those words.
“Right now, they’re testing about 200,000 per day. So that would be a significant increase,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office. “The answer may be in the timeline and ultimately that might be possible but not in the near term.”
He called the question on Tuesday that prompted him to make the 5m tests goal remark a “media trap,” a new phrase he uses to describe reporters’ questions that he answers and gets himself into political hot water.
“I didn’t say it,” the president said – falsely. “Where did it ... come from? ... It’s sort of a setup.”
The comment on Wednesday morning was merely the newest example of Mr Trump making a bold claim one day, often when something is brought up by a reporter or aide, then scrambling to distance himself from that very contention the next.
“We’re going to be there very soon ... We’re really doing ... a great job on testing,” the president told reporters following an event at the White House when asked if the US could get to 5m tests a day.
On Tuesday afternoon, he also predicted testing guidance he announced on Monday evening will allow his administration to “increase it by much more than that in the very near future,” saying “we’re going to an even higher number.”
But less than 24 hours later, Mr Trump made clear getting anywhere close to 5m test administered each day won’t happen anytime soon -- even as more and more states either begin reopening their economies or announce plans to soon begin doing so.
The president’s back down came after one of his top public health officials earlier Tuesday dismissed some experts’ talk of getting to 5m tests per day.
“There is absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day,” Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health, told TIME magazine in an interview Tuesday morning.
The admiral is leading the federal government’s Covid-19 testing efforts.
Meantime, the president said he will not extend Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing and other measures meant to slow or stop the spread of Covid-19. Those are set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday night.
Mr Trump told reporters the same mitigation steps are baked into other guidance his administration released earlier this month to help governors go through a three-stage process to open their states.
The White House has shifted away from broadcasting messages about the virus itself and the federal government’s efforts to fight it to a focus on messaging about opening the country as the economy craters.
Some Democratic lawmakers say Mr Trump has botched the federal response with over 1m confirmed cases and more than 58,000 deaths, according to The Johns Hopkins University.
“The President’s response to this pandemic has been a failure of leadership,” Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin tweeted.
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, tweeted Wednesday that “President Trump’s failed leadership has left our frontline healthcare workers without needed PPE, testing, & medical equipment.”