Even in the middle of a press conference ostensibly dedicated to informing the American people about the novel coronavirus, and the national state of emergency being enacted in its wake, President Donald Trump couldn't stop himself from being, well... himself.
While the press conference conducted on Friday (March 13) included a number of lies and willful exaggerations — and not to mention, quite a few CEOs of major private companies — perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment came when PBS Newshour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked the president about his prior comment that he "does not take responsibility" for the current outbreak in the United States. Globally, the World Health Organization has categorized the spread of the coronavirus, and the illness it causes, known as COVID-19, as a pandemic.
"You said that you don’t take responsibility but you did disband the White House pandemic office," Alcindor said, referring to the 2018 dissolution of the office, at the directive of former National Security Advisor John Bolton. "And the officials that were working in that office left this administration abruptly, so what responsibility do you take for that? And the officials that worked in that office said the White House lost wasted valuable time because the office was disbanded — what do you make of that?"
Trump declined to answer the question in full, calling it "nasty," which is a word he overwhelmingly wields against women. Below, his response in full:
"I just think it’s a nasty question because what we’ve done is — and Tony [Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] has said numerous times that we’ve saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing. And when you say me — I didn’t do it, we have a group of people I could, I could ask perhaps in this administration that... I could perhaps ask Tony about that because I don’t know anything about it. I mean, you say you say we did that, we’re spending — I don’t know anything about it. It’s the administration, perhaps they do that, people let people go. You used to be with a different newspaper than you are now. You know, things like that happen."
He was instantly fact-checked in real-time by users across social media, including those who pointed to a Washington Post editorial by Beth Cameron, the former senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council, that published earlier that day.
"It’s impossible to assess the full impact of the 2018 decision to disband the White House office responsible for this work," she wrote. "Biological experts do remain in the White House and in our government. But it is clear that eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response."
And Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) disputed the notion that Trump didn't know about the closure, with plenty of receipts.
That administration closure is among the many ways the Trump administration has been slow, misguided, or entirely misleading in its response to the pandemic. In 2018, Mother Jones notes, the administration also cut 80 percent of CDC funding meant to fight global pandemics.