White House trade adviser Peter Navarro insisted on CNN Sunday that President Donald Trump used “tongue-in-cheek” humor when he said he ordered officials to slow coronavirus testing to suppress the number of reported COVID-19 cases.
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find … more cases,” Trump said at his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Saturday. “So I said to my people, ’Slow the testing down, please.’”
CNN host Jake Tapper played the clip for Navarro on “State of the Union” and asked him about it.
Navarro laughed. “C’mon now, Jake, you know that was tongue in cheek,” he said, adding, “That’s news for ya, tongue in cheek.”
Tapper responded: “I don’t know that it was tongue in cheek. He’s said similar things for months.”
Navarro called it a “light moment for Donald Trump at his rally.”
Tapper pressed on. “I’m not sure that a deadly pandemic where almost 120,000 Americans [lost their lives] are really a good subject for a light moment.”
Trump and his aides have frequently walked back embarrassing Trump statements by calling them attempts at humor.
Navarro tried to steer the interview to jobs and the effects of what he called the “China Wuhan virus,” a racist term administration officials have used for the COVID-19 virus. Navarro also tried to discuss former national security adviser John Bolton’s new book.
Navarro argued without evidence that COVID-19 was a “product of the Chinese Communist Party.” They “sent over hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens here to spread that around and around the world,” he added, again without substantiation. “Whether they did that on purpose, that’s an open question.”
But, he added, they’re “guilty until proven innocent.”
There is no evidence that the novel coronavirus was engineered by the Chinese government; rather, there is ample evidence that the virus emerged naturally.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) blasted Trump’s latest testing statements. “The President’s efforts to slow down desperately needed testing to hide the true extent of the virus mean more Americans will lose their lives,” she said in a statement. “The American people are owed answers about why President Trump wants less testing when experts say much more is needed.”
Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a tweet that Trump’s outlandish comment “acknowledges what we’ve seen — active obstruction of testing in a pandemic which claimed 120K lives so far.”
He added: “If I did this for 10 people at my hospital, it’d be a crime.”
Trump has discussed taking a similar approach to coronavirus testing in the past, implying that the best way to keep down the numbers of COVID-19 is simply not to test for cases, even as cases continue to rise. On Monday, Trump complained that testing was making the country look bad — and that “if we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”
New daily cases of COVID-19 have hit records in several states.
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