A new book suggests that President Trump understood the threats of the coronavirus even as he told the nation it was no worse than the seasonal flu.
PHILADELPHIA – President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied downplaying the threat from coronavirus, telling a television town hall that he “up played it” despite his assertion in an interview earlier this year that he “wanted to always play it down.”
Trump made the remarks during a 90-minute town hall hosted by ABC News in the must win battleground of Pennsylvania.
“Well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up played it terms of action,” Trump said in response to a question about an interview with journalist Bob Woodward in which he said he knew the coronavirus was more deadly and contagious than the flu but continued to compare the two.
The town hall, which aired two weeks before Trump will take part in his first debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, featured an extended conversation about the president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump defended his earlier assertion that the virus will eventually disappear even without a vaccine, citing what he called “herd mentality,” an apparent reference to “herd immunity.”
Herd immunity is the theory that the virus is eradicated only after a high percentage of the population is infected, limiting its ability to spread.
“And you’ll develop, you’ll develop herd — like a herd mentality. It’s going to be — it’s going to be herd developed – and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.”
ABC has described the event as being aimed at uncommittedvoters, some of whom askedTrump questions about the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, climate change, and other issues.
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos anchoredanchor the town hall.
Trump was repeatedly forced to defend claims he has made at campaign rallies and at the White House in recent months. Asked why he had not produced a health care plan he has long promised will protect Americans with preexisting conditions, Trump said he has a plan “already” but declined to provide details about when it would be released. When he asserted “a lot of people” think masks are “not good” for managing the spread of the virus, Stephanopoulos pressed for an example of who was saying that.
“Waiters,” Trump responded, arguing that waiters touch their masks before touching the plates of restaurant patrons.
The president also repeatedly rejected the idea that he had downplayed the severity of the virus, despite recordings from Woodward’s interviews in which he told the journalist he thought downplaying it would help avoid a panic.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward on March 19 in excerpts of audio interviews obtained by CNN.
Trump frequently compared the coronavirus to the flu, arguing that “nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on” during even the most deadly flu seasons.
Trump recorded the town hall at theNational Constitution Center, the lobby of which provides a picture window view of Independence Hall a few blocks distant, was the site of former President Barack Obama’s high-profile speech on race during the 2008 presidential campaign.
As he flew back from Philadelphia, Trump tweeted a photograph of himself on Air Force One with a large Philly cheese steak sandwich on his desk. “Great to be back in Philadelphia,” he wrote.
The first of three debates, set for Sept. 29, will come as some polls suggest a tightening race in some battlegrounds, including Florida and North Carolina.
Trump carried Pennsylvania by less than 1 percentage point in 2016. The suburbs of Philadelphia are among the most competitive in the country, though Trump is also seeking to run up turnout in more reliably conservative parts of the state.
“With the suburban voter, we’re taking care of them – it’s safety, it’s about safety, it’s about law and order,” Trump said as he left the White House, echoing what has become a central tenet of his bid for reelection. “We have a very strong, very powerful law and order campaign.”
Polls currently show Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a single-digit lead in the Keystone State.
The town hall aired on a day when the president secured a historic foreign policy victory: A pair of agreements formalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and two Gulf Arab nations, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The foreign ministers of those Arab states joined Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the South Lawn of the White House earlier Tuesday for a signing ceremony.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci
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