President Donald Trump’s Monday coronavirus news conference in the White House Rose Garden was shorter than usual and at least somewhat less acrimonious than many of the briefings he’s held over the past month.
But Trump still made false and misleading claims, most of them repeats from past briefings. And Vice President Mike Pence accused a reporter of a misunderstanding about testing that Pence’s own words had created weeks earlier.
Here are some fact checks from the briefing:
Pence’s testing promises
Pence, Trump and others who spoke at the briefing touted the administration’s plan to dramatically increase coronavirus testing in the coming weeks. (Trump said the number of tests conducted would soon be much more than double the current level.)
A reporter then asked Pence what went wrong before – after his early-March claims that four million tests would be available by the following week. Pence said last Friday, a month and a half after those March comments, that 5.1 million Americans had been tested.
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Pence responded Monday: “I appreciate the question, but it represents a misunderstanding on your part and frankly the – a lot of people in the public’s part – about the difference between having a test versus the ability to actually process the test.”
Pence said “the old system” was not able to process the tests at the necessary volume.
When a reporter pressed him, asking if he had just been talking in March “about tests being sent out, not actually being completed,” Pence said that was correct.
Facts First: If there was a misunderstanding, Pence’s own remarks helped create it. When Pence said on March 9 and on March 10 that 4 million tests would be distributed before the end of the week, in addition to 1 million already distributed, he did not explain that those millions of tests could not be processed anytime soon.
Here’s what Pence said on March 9: “Over a million tests have been distributed. Before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed. But as I said before, with the deployment of the commercial labs, we literally – we literally are going to see a dramatic increase in the available – availability of testing, and that’s all a direct result of the President’s leadership.”
Pence did not add a caveat about how the system was currently unable to deal with the 4 million tests. And he specifically mentioned commercial labs immediately after mentioning the 4 million tests, creating the impression that the labs would be able to handle the tests.
Similarly, Pence said on March 10: “Over a million tests are out, thanks to the diligent work of (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (the Department of Health and Human Services). More than 4 million will go out this week. You’ve worked with commercial labs to expand testing, and that will continue to increase by the day.”
There were, again, no caveats, and he again mentioned the labs.
At Monday’s news conference, the President was asked about China’s role in the pandemic. Trump repeated his regular false claim that the US “never took in 10 cents from China” before he took office.
Facts First: Not only are Americans bearing most of the cost of Trump’s tariffs but the US has also had tariffs on China for more than two centuries, generating an average of $12 billion a year from 2007 to 2016.
You can read a longer fact check on Trump’s China tariffs here.
Go deeper and take a listen to Daniel Dale breaking down some of these fact checks and more on The Daily DC Podcast
China travel restrictions
Trump also mentioned his oft-repeated false claim about placing travel restrictions on China due to the coronavirus.
He claimed during Monday’s news conference that “we closed the border,” adding: “We put a ban on China, other than our citizens coming in.”
Facts First: While Trump acknowledged this time that his travel restrictions on China contained exemptions for certain people – he usually just describes it as a “ban” without elaboration – he still wasn’t telling the full story. Citizens were not the only exempted group; he also exempted permanent residents, some of the close family members of citizens and permanent residents, and some others.
Here are the facts:
On February 2, the Trump administration began implementing travel restrictions that denied entry to foreign nationals who had visited China within 14 days of arriving in the US.
The restrictions did not apply to US citizens, as the President noted, but they also excluded permanent residents, the spouses of citizens and permanent residents, many parents of both groups, many siblings of both groups and some others.
As of February 2, all travelers who had been in China’s Hubei province in the two weeks prior to their return to the United States are also subject to a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days upon their return to the US. Others allowed back into the US after returning from the rest of mainland China may also face up to 14 days of quarantine after undergoing health screenings at selected ports of entry.
Asked why Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar remains in his Cabinet, Trump sought to defend his administration’s response to the coronavirus, including imposing travel restrictions on China. He also attempted to deflect scrutiny by implying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been late to realize the danger of the virus because she had encouraged people to visit San Francisco’s Chinatown in February.
“I could tell you that Nancy Pelosi was dancing in the streets in Chinatown. She wanted to go. ‘Let’s go out and party.’ Now that was late into February, so you don’t mention that. But you could mention that,” Trump said.
Facts First: There is no available footage of Pelosi dancing in the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown during her February 24 visit, and she did not call for people to “go out and party.” She did visit the neighborhood amid concerns of rising anti-Chinese bigotry, and she did encourage people to visit the area, but Trump has repeatedly exaggerated what she said and did.
During her trip, Pelosi walked around Chinatown, visited businesses and a temple, and ate at a dim sum restaurant.
Pelosi told reporters that “we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come. It’s lovely here. The food is delicious, the shops are prospering, the parade was great. Walking tours continue. Please come and visit and enjoy Chinatown.”
While Pelosi urged people to “come to Chinatown,” Trump himself tweeted the same day that “the Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” likened the virus to the “regular flu” two days later and continued to downplay the situation well into March.
During Monday’s news conference, Trump was asked about comments former Vice President Joe Biden made that he believes Trump may try to delay November’s presidential election. Trump said he hadn’t thought about changing the date and then launched into a new false claim – suggesting that Biden didn’t make those comments himself.
“That was just made-up propaganda. Not by him, but by some of the many people that are working, writing little statements,” Trump said, later adding: “He didn’t make those statements. But somebody did. But they said he made it.”
Facts First: Biden did make those exact statements at a virtual fundraiser last week, according to a pool report. This is not the first time that Trump has suggested that other people besides Biden – such as his campaign staff – are the real ones behind his words. But there is no reason to believe anyone other than Biden made those comments at last week’s fundraiser.
“Mark my words: I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Biden said at the virtual event.
In response, the Trump campaign communications director attributed those comments to Biden as “the incoherent, conspiracy theory ramblings of a lost candidate who is out of touch with reality.”
It’s also worth noting that Trump cannot unilaterally change the date of the election in November. The election date has been set into law by federal statute and would require congressional action to change. More CNN analysis of that here.