President Donald Trump was asked on Tuesday about his decision to downplay the potential severity of the coronavirus as it was beginning to spread. He defended his actions by saying that he wanted to be a “cheerleader” for the U.S. and to avoid creating “havoc, and shock, and everything else.”
A video posted to their Twitter account shows CBS News’ Ben Tracy asking Trump at the daily coronavirus press conference about his early comments, when the president claimed the virus would be gone within a few days.
“Well the cases really didn’t build up for a while,” he began.
“You have to understand, I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump continued. “I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else. But ultimately, when I was saying that, I’m also closing it down. I obviously was concerned about it because I closed down our country to China.”
“I’m not going to go out and start screaming ‘this could happen this could happen.’ I think a president has to be a cheerleader for their country,” he concluded.
Tracy’s question came after it was revealed that top White House adviser Peter Navarro wrote memos warning the administration that the coronavirus could cost the U.S. millions of jobs, could potentially infect millions of Americans, and could drastically impact the U.S. economy.
In his report, Navarro warned that the lack of a vaccine or cure could render U.S. citizens “defenseless,” as The New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The memo also cautioned that — if the administration was aggressive in containing the outbreak right away — the human and economic cost could be low, but a worst-case scenario “should not be overlooked,” given how the virus was unfolding in China. In that scenario, the memo stated, more than 500 million Americans could die.
At the time the memos were circulating around the administration, Trump was publicly saying that the virus was completely under control and would be gone within a number of days.
While he did restrict travel from China on January 31, Trump didn’t take further action until mid-March, when he ultimately restricted travel from Europe and eventually declared a national emergency on March 13.
The president is currently facing criticism for declining to advise a nationwide stay-at-home order, despite Dr. Anthony Fauci — the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — suggesting that the country should be under such an order.
Critics also argue that Trump hesitated to quickly and fully employ the Defense Production Act as well, leaving many health care facilities short on necessary medical supplies and personal protective equipment.