President Donald Trump said that he will resume holding coronavirus press briefings at the White House, likely starting Tuesday, as a sharp rise in cases across the nation coincides with his declining poll numbers.
Trump, speaking in the Oval Office, told reporters Monday that “we have had this big flare-up in Florida, Texas, a couple of other places,” while maintaining that “a lot of the country is doing well” in its fight against the pandemic.
“And so I think what we’re going to do is, I’ll get involved and we’ll start doing briefings, whether it’s this afternoon or tomorrow, probably tomorrow, and I’ll do briefings,” Trump said.
The decision to restart the briefings followed internal polling showing the White House that the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and its messaging were not breaking through, NBC News reported, citing a senior administration official.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to confirm to Fox News later Monday that the next such briefing was set for 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
She said the point of the briefings is to “give reassurance to the American people that we are in a place, where we see these cases rising as we increase testing, notably — but we are in a place where we are treating people in a better fashion because of the therapeutics developed under this president.”
The briefings from the coronavirus task force, once a near-daily occurrence, had been largely scrapped for nearly three months. While the task force is led by Vice President Mike Pence, the briefings were dominated by Trump, who frequently engaged in lengthy and combative exchanges with reporters.
In one of his last appearances in the briefing room, Trump speculated about whether ingesting disinfectants could work as a treatment for Covid-19 — a moment that generated ferocious criticism from public health experts.
In June, members of the task force held their first public briefing since late April. Trump was not present.
Trump’s overall approval ratings had gone up in the first months of the crisis, when the task force briefings were regularly taking place, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling tracker. But by April, the president’s approval had started to slide, the tracker shows.
It has continued to trend downward in subsequent months, as multiple states grapple with record-breaking spikes in cases. With less than four months until the 2020 election, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden holds a sizable and steady lead over Trump, RealClearPolitics’ polling average shows.
As the election draws near, Trump last week announced a campaign shake up, tapping Bill Stepien to replace Brad Parscale as campaign manager. The move came weeks after the Trump campaign’s kickoff rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was mired in controversy and yielded underwhelming turnout. Cases in the city were rising before Trump arrived, and health experts said afterward that a spike in cases there was likely linked to the rally.
The rallies, a defining feature of Trump’s winning 2016 presidential bid, had not been held for months amid the health crisis, depriving the president of one of the key weapons in his campaign arsenal. Absent those large-scale in-person events, Trump has used his platforms in the Rose Garden and elsewhere to launch attacks against Biden and his other political opponents.
Members of the task force — especially Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert — have faced criticism from within the White House itself as they continue to speak publicly about the virus.
Trump, in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday, said Fauci is a “a little bit of an alarmist,” while adding, “I have a great relationship with him.”
In that interview Trump also pushed back on remarks from Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another member of the task force, who said that if “everybody” wore masks, the virus could be under control in a matter of weeks.
“I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wears a mask everything disappears,” Trump told Fox.
Trump said Monday that the U.S. is now in a much better place regarding vaccines and therapeutics than it was at the time the briefings halted, when “we were nowhere.”
“I think it’s a great way to get information out to the public as to where with the vaccines, with the therapeutics, and generally speaking where we are,” he said.
Trump added that regular White House press briefings, led by the press secretary, would continue.