Donald Trump’s campaign spokesman came under fire during a CNN appearance on Monday. During an interview, Tim Murtaugh, the director of communications for Trump’s campaign, was pressed to answer whether he believed it was “funny” that the president joked about slowing coronavirus testing at a time when more than 120,000 Americans have died from the virus.
Murtaugh was asked by anchor Brianna Keilar about statements the president made at a rally in Tulsa this weekend that testing for coronavirus revealed too many positive cases, and that he requested a slowdown of testing. The remark drew sharp criticism, and a White House official later told The Daily Beast that the president was “obviously kidding” when he made the remark.
During the segment on Monday, Keilar repeatedly asked Murtaugh whether he personally found it funny, given that so many Americans have died from COVID-19. Murtaugh initially responded with condescension, accusing CNN of being unable to discern the joke that Trump was making.
“I understand there’s not much of a sense of humor at CNN center. But the president was joking. He tried to illustrate the point that when you expand testing, you will naturally expand the number of positive cases that you detect.”
He went on to say he was not surprised that Keilar was “either unable or unwilling” to understand that Trump was making a tongue-in-cheek remark.
Keilar replied that she did not find it funny, and asked Murtaugh if he found the joke funny himself. The Trump campaign spokesman did not answer directly, and instead said that Trump was trying to “illustrate the point” about expanding testing.
But Keilar continued to press for a direct answer.
“Is dead Americans, is unemployed Americans, is that funny to you?”
When Murtaugh replied that Keilar could “ask it 100 different ways,” she interjected to say “And you won’t answer it.”
Trump has come under sharp criticism for the way he has handled the coronavirus outbreak, including what critics have seen as inadequate testing. The president has also been criticized for a push to reopen the American economy too quickly, with public health experts saying a rush to allow nonessential businesses to reopen and allowing large public gatherings — like Trump’s rally in Tulsa on Saturday — will only lead to new surges in cases. Trump had also come under fire for referring to the novel coronavirus as “Kung Flu,” a name that critics have decried as racist.