White House trade adviser Peter Navarro asserted Sunday the president never issued such an explicit directive, telling CNN that Trump’s remarks were “tongue-in-cheek.”
“It was a comment that he made in jest,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a news briefing Monday, adding: “Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact.”
Even Pence sought to manage the political fallout, telling governors during a conference call Monday that Trump’s testing comments were merely a “passing observation,” according to a CBS News report.
But in an interview Monday with Scripps Networks, Trump did not deny asking his administration to curtail coronavirus testing and instead contended that “if we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases.”
Pressed again Tuesday on the president’s opinions of coronavirus testing, McEnany refused to concede that Trump’s statements were made in earnest. “He was making a serious point, but he was using sarcasm to do that,” she told reporters.
More than 120,000 Americans have already died as a result of Covid-19, and the total number of confirmed infections nationwide has surged beyond 2.3 million. Although public health experts universally agree the U.S. needs more coronavirus testing, not less, Trump remained adamant in his reasoning Tuesday.
“Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” he tweeted, later describing testing as a “double-edged sword” to reporters.
“In one way, it tells you you have cases,” Trump said. “In another way, you find out where the cases are, and you do a good job. We are doing a great job. We have never been credited for it. We’re doing the best testing job anywhere in the world.”
Those remarks by the president, as he prepared to depart for Arizona, came roughly an hour before Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, and other senior health officials within the administration were scheduled to testify before Congress about the ongoing pandemic.
At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Fauci told lawmakers that, to his knowledge, no members of the White House coronavirus task force had been asked to scale back testing.
“It’s the opposite,” he said. “We’re going to be doing more testing, not less.”
Last week, Trump deemed coronavirus testing to be “overrated” in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, and in March he memorably expressed reluctance to evacuate passengers aboard a cruise ship marooned off the coast of California that had been stricken with a Covid-19 outbreak.
“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump said at the time, referring to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S.