President Donald Trump called a surprise news conference on Friday night at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, speaking to reporters before a crowd of cheering club members who infused the event with the tone of a miniature campaign rally.
Trump used the occasion to again push false claims that Covid-19 is “disappearing,” contradicted his intelligence agencies’ findings on foreign interference in the election, and made misleading and questionable claims about using executive orders to break Washington gridlock — while also announcing plans to implement a policy that already exists.
Before the event started, Trump was caught talking to his members about the press using language meant to delegitimize anticipated criticism.
”You’ll get to meet the fake news tonight. You’ll get to see what I have to go through,” Trump said, according to CNN’s Jim Acosta. “Who’s there? Oh all my killers are there, wow. So you’ll get to see some of the people that we deal with every day.”
Throughout the conference, Trump appeared to play to the crowd before him. For instance, when a reporter questioned that some club members decided not to wear masks during the event, Trump deflected by claiming his supporters were under no obligation to do so because they were engaged in “peaceful protest,” prompting laughter and cheers from the crowd.
In his remarks directly addressing the coronavirus pandemic, Trump echoed an incorrect claim he made Wednesday, saying, “It’s disappearing, it’s going to disappear.”
"It's going to disappear" -- Trump is still out here falsely claiming the coronavirus will one day just vanish, and is trying to turn reality on its head by suggesting over 10 percent unemployment is good pic.twitter.com/R3XS7w1mBI— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 7, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Trump administration’s top infectious disease official, recently rebutted this claim in an interview with Reuters, calling it “unlikely” — and saying while he believes public health measures and a successful vaccine will help the world get Covid-19 under control, “I don’t think we’re going to eradicate this from the planet.”
The number of Americans dying from the coronavirus shows just how far the country is from reaching that point — and how false Trump’s continued promise the virus will vanish is. Deaths from Covid-19 in the US increased for the fifth straight week this week, according to the Covid Tracking Project. And many public health experts don’t expect a vaccine that could curtail the threat posed by the coronavirus to become widely available until mid-2021.
In his remarks Friday, Trump also revived a debunked talking point that cases of the virus were only going up “because we are doing a lot of testing.” A STAT analysis in July showed that in the overwhelming majority of states, the case count rose in recent months “because there was actually more disease.” Moreover, epidemiologists have pointed to increasing hospitalizations and deaths as a sign Covid-19’s spread has accelerated.
Most Americans do not accept Trump’s logic on testing, according to a Pew study conducted from July 27 to August 2. The researchers found 60 percent of Americans do not agree that there are only more Covid-19 cases because testing has increased. However, the researchers found a marked partisan split on the issue, with 62 percent of Republicans feeling more testing is leading to more cases, a position 19 percent of Democrats agreed with.
Trump also made false and misleading claims about elections and coronavirus relief
Beyond spreading incorrect information about the coronavirus, the president also addressed the 2020 presidential election, downplaying the threat of foreign interference on his behalf in the upcoming election by blatantly dismissing the findings of his own intelligence agencies while casting mail-in voting as dangerous.
When a reporter cited a new assessment by the US intelligence community — which found Russia is using a “range of measures” to undermine presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and that China is considering working to limit Trump’s chances of reelection — Trump dismissed it.
While the president initially said the intelligence in the report “could be” correct, he immediately pivoted, saying, “The last person Russia wants to see in office is Donald Trump, because nobody’s been tougher on Russia than I have, ever.”
When reminded, “That’s not what the intelligence says,” Trump retorted, “I don’t care what anybody says,” and proceeded to argue that policies like his focus on getting NATO countries to increase their contributions to the Western military alliance prove he’s tough on Russia and that Moscow would not want him in office.
"I don't care what anybody says" -- Trump dismisses the intelligence community's announcement today that Russia is once again helping him pic.twitter.com/dCHTbJctN6— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 8, 2020
Trump also cast mail-in voting as “the biggest risk we have,” and said he was concerned that foreign meddling could take place through mail-in ballots. But experts on voting say there’s a consensus that mail-in ballots are historically a reliable and safe way of voting, and that there’s no evidence they can be used to commit mass fraud when they’re resourced properly.
While the election is still months away, millions of Americans have immediate concerns about where they will live and how they will pay bills now that the federal unemployment insurance and the eviction protections instituted by the CARES Act have expired.
Democrats and Republicans failed to come to an agreement on extending those protections after weeks of negotiations, stymied in part by the president making demands that were not supported by his party, such as a payroll tax cut.
To fill the gap left by these programs, Trump promised — in vague terms — to use executive orders to put into place a host of sweeping measures, including extended moratoriums on evictions and unemployment benefits. But he avoided questions on how he could legally circumvent Congress to do so.
Notably, the president went on to promise the release of an executive order ensuring insurance companies “cover all preexisting conditions for all customers,” adding that “this has never been done before.”
This was misleading on at least two fronts. First, protections against being denied coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions were already signed into law under the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration, and remain law. Second, Trump and the GOP have sought for years — unsuccessfully — to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering a realistic alternative plan, which effectively means the president has been seeking to strip people of protections for preexisting conditions.
The conference concluded with a reporter questioning Trump’s claims that the pandemic is disappearing, and asking about the wisdom of allowing attending club members to not wear masks in light of the ongoing pandemic.
“You said that the pandemic is disappearing, but we lost 6,000 Americans this week and just in this room you have dozens of people who are not following the guidelines in New Jersey,” a reporter said, which prompted boos from the crowd.
“You’re wrong about that because it’s a political activity,” Trump said. “And it’s also a peaceful protest.”
In ending the conference, Trump placed the blame for the country’s crises on a habitual foe: The press itself. “If the press in this country were honest, if it wasn’t corrupt, if it wasn’t fake, our country would be so much further ahead, but we’re doing really great.”