President Donald Trump devolved into self-pity during a White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday, lamenting that his approval ratings were lower than those of two top government medical experts.
Just over a week after he began a rebooted effort, driven by rising infection rates and sinking poll numbers, to talk about the virus in terms more in line with medical consensus, Trump was again making unfounded claims and defending discredited medical experts. It was the sort of eccentric, science-deficient performance that many of his aides believe unnerved the public during the spring and has come to gravely threaten his reelection prospects.
Noting that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, his administration’s top coronavirus coordinator, have high approval ratings even as his own have sagged, Trump added: “And yet, they’re highly thought of — but nobody likes me.”
“It can only be my personality,” he concluded.
When the president restarted his coronavirus briefings last week after shutting them down in April, he largely hewed to a script, urging Americans to wear masks and practice social distancing.
But on Tuesday, he resumed his freelancing and wandering into politically and medically problematic alleyways. When reporters pressed him on a viral video he had retweeted Monday night that included doctors falsely claiming that hydroxychloroquine was a “cure” for the virus and that masks were unnecessary, Trump responded: “They’re very respected doctors. There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it, and she’s had tremendous success with it.’’
When a reporter noted that the physician who spoke of “a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel of Houston, also “made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens,” Trump responded, “I know nothing about her,” and abruptly ended the briefing moments later.
Twitter and Facebook have since removed that video, calling it misleading.
Fauci is among several top medical experts, as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to say repeatedly that hydroxychloroquine has no proven effect against the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration last month revoked an authorization it had issued for emergency use of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients, saying it acted “based on recent results from a large, randomized clinical trial in hospitalized patients that found these medicines showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.”
But Trump was insistent. “Many doctors think it is extremely successful,” he said of the drug, although he acknowledged that “some people don’t.” Trump also noted that he had taken a roughly 10-day course of the drug in May, after a White House valet tested positive for the virus.
While advisers have pressed Trump to more fully acknowledge the severity of the virus’ spread, he again offered a dissonantly upbeat assessment.
Trump declared “large portions of our country” to be “corona-free,” even though no region in the United States is actually free of the virus. While he noted concern over high case levels in California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, he said: “That’s starting to head down in the right direction. And I think you’ll see it rapidly head down very soon.”
However, a new federal report found that the number of states with outbreaks serious enough to place them in the “red zone” has grown to 21. It called for more restrictions on social activity. Those states include the ones named by Trump, along with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. All had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week.
The findings in the new report were sent to state officials by the White House’s coronavirus task force and obtained by The New York Times.
Trump reiterated that he had a “very good relationship” with Fauci while repeating his now-routine complaint that Fauci had opposed his ban in January on most air travel from China into the United States. (Fauci initially doubted the idea but supported the final decision.)
The president, who said he was invoking the Defense Production Act for the 33rd time since the outbreak of the virus — this time to provide a $765 million loan to Kodak to produce pharmaceuticals, part of a new effort to achieve “American pharmaceutical independence” from China and other nations — insisted that he deserved more credit in relation to Fauci for his administration’s efforts to procure more ventilators and personal protective equipment and to enable more virus testing nationwide.
“He’s got this high approval rating, so why don’t I have a high approval rating with respect — and the administration — with respect to the virus?” Trump asked. “So it sort of is curious.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.