Donald Trump told a reporter that people are “lucky” that he is in office during an update on the coronavirus on Wednesday, drawing controversy for what was seen as touting his own performance at a time when the number of deaths in the United States from the virus rose to nearly 900.
“You’re lucky that this group is here right now to deal with this problem or you wouldn’t even have a country left,” Trump said at the briefing.
The statement was met with controversy online, with many accusing Trump of praising himself despite missteps from his administration including spending weeks downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak. Trump said in the early days of the outbreak that it was controlled and that cases would soon be moving down to zero. Since then, the virus has spread across the country, with more than 63,000 cases reported as of Wednesday evening.
Trump had been responding to criticism of his statement that the United States could end its shutdowns and open up businesses again by Easter, a projection that was not backed by medical experts who said that several weeks of isolation would be needed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"There are people in your profession that write fake news, they'd love to see me [lose re-election]—We've done one hell of a job."
—Trump "defending" his Easter timeline by berating the press. #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/yfRBOTlKFI
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) March 25, 2020
Others noted that Trump’s push to get America back open and people going back to work was not supported by the American people.
"Our country wants to get back to work," Trump says. In fact, polling released today indicates 74 of voters support even more stringent social distancing measures. pic.twitter.com/33DbwNRZKP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 25, 2020
As Vox reported, a poll from the Morning Consult found that a plurality of Americans supports a “national quarantine” and that three-quarters had at least some level of support for the idea, even though it is stricter than many current measures being implemented.
“Many Americans are already engaging in some form of social distancing, meaning they are either voluntarily keeping their distance from other people or are subject to a government order requiring them to do so,” the report noted.
“A ‘quarantine; would be an especially strict form of such distancing. Ordinarily, someone subject to a quarantine will remain in their home or in designated areas, with no exceptions. Although, as the Morning Consult polling question acknowledges, some exceptions to a nationwide quarantine order would need to be made to allow people to obtain food and medicine.”
As Vox noted, medical experts believe that easing restrictions and reopening businesses by Easter on April 12 would be potentially devastating, leading to a surge in cases that could overwhelm fragile medical systems and lead to a high number of deaths.
Wednesday’s coronavirus update was not the first time that Trump had grown defensive with members of the press. Last week, he launched an attack against NBC News reporter Peter Alexander after he asked the president about what he would say to Americans who are afraid of the spread of the disease. Trump responded by calling Alexander a “terrible reporter” and accused him of stoking fear. Alexander later said he was trying to offer a “softball” question to Trump to help ease the fears of Americans.