WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump pulled the plug on his freewheeling daily coronavirus briefings when they turned into a political liability this spring, but he was reviving them Tuesday, looking to halt a campaign-season erosion of support as new cases spike across the country.
The early evening show at the White House came as the next stage of the federal government’s response to the pandemic was being crafted on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and White House officials were opening negotiations on a trillion-dollar-or-more “phase four” rescue package.
“It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” Trump said from the White House, but he also touted a reduction in deaths and progress on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, which Trump referred to repeatedly as a the “China virus.” He also continued his belated encouragement of Americans to wear masks when social distancing is not possible, saying, “Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact.”
Little more than three months out from Election Day, Trump is hoping that the podium spotlight will give him an edge against Democratic rival Joe Biden. He appeared at the White House solo, without the medical experts or government supply experts he previously relied on to explain his government’s response to the public health emergency.
“The vaccines are coming, and they’re coming a lot sooner than anybody thought possible,” Trump promised anew.
As early as next week, the first possible U.S. vaccine is set to begin final-stage testing in a study of 30,000 people to see if it really is safe and effective. A few other vaccines have begun smaller late-stage studies in other countries, and in the U.S. a series of huge studies are planned to start each month through fall in hopes of, eventually, having several vaccines to use. Already, people can start signing up to volunteer for the different studies.
Health authorities warn there’s no guarantee — it’s not unusual for vaccines to fail during this critical testing step. But vaccine makers and health officials are hopeful that at least one vaccine could prove to work by year’s end. Companies already are taking the unusual step of brewing hundreds of millions of doses so that mass vaccinations could begin if the Food and Drug Administration signs off
Trump announced he would revive the briefings on Monday, though White House officials said hours before he was to take the podium that the format and frequency hadn’t been finalized.
He was not planning on sharing the stage with public health experts including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx — at least in his first briefing — according to a White House official.
“You’ll have to tune in to see,” teased press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
“He’s the right person to give the information to the American people,” she said. “And, boy, does he get the information to a lot of the American people during his briefings, as noted by the ratings.”
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, had not been informed about his role as of Tuesday morning. He told NPR he hadn’t been informed by the White House whether he would be in attendance for Trump’s briefing.
The doctor said he was glad Trump has begun to promote mask-wearing and expressed optimism the president would reinforce that message Tuesday.
“If we, during those conferences, come out and have consistent, clear, noncontradictory messages, I believe it will be very helpful in getting people on the track of knowing the direction that we need to go to get this pandemic under control,” he said.
Little more than three months out from Election Day, Trump is hoping that the podium spotlight will give him an edge against Democratic rival Joe Biden, though his advisers have stressed a need to adopt a more disciplined public agenda.
Biden, for his part Tuesday, launched into scathing criticism of Trump as he outlined the latest plank of his economic recovery plan, charging that Trump “failed his most important test as an American President: the duty to care for you, for all of us.”
“He’s quit on you, he’s quit on this country,” Biden said.
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to offer a preview of potential messages for the briefing, claiming “tremendous progress” on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. He said that “by comparison to most other countries, who are suffering greatly, we are doing very well – and we have done things that few other countries could have done!”
In fact, the U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths from the virus — and ranks near the top on a per-capita basis as well.
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