Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
On Monday, President Donald Trump used the White House daily coronavirus task force briefing to beef with his enemies and his haters, in what has to be one of his most deranged performances yet.
The central theme of the briefing was that the White House is doing a bang-up job dealing with the crisis, and any and all criticism of that job is unwarranted. The U.S. now leads the world in both total coronavirus cases and deaths, with more than 583,000 cases and 23,649 lives lost.
Over the course of two and a half hours, Trump got into multiple shouting matches with reporters, showed a four minute long video about what a great job he was doing, and claimed he has “total authority” on when the country reopens.
In other words, any seriousness with which Trump treated the subject of the coronavirus is now gone. Like nearly every other issue he’s tackled during his presidency, it’s now him vs. them — the media, Democrats, and anyone else who dares question his judgment.
Trump shows a wild video of his greatest coronavirus hits to show up the media
Trump, frustrated recently over reporting on and criticism of his mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, went to the trouble of showing a 4-minute long video (complete with musical score!) of various figures in the press downplaying the coronavirus threat early on, as well as highlights of Trump and his team doing a great job.
Asked why a team of White House employees were tasked with doing this, Trump was indignant.
“I wouldn’t use the word produced. All they did was took some clips, and they just ran them for you,” Trump said. “And the reason they did is to keep you honest. Now, I don’t think that’s going to work. It’s not going to have any impact, but just think of it.”
Trump argues it was fine to retweet “#FireFauci”… in front of Fauci
On Sunday night, Trump retweeted a call for him to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top official on the coronavirus task force. In a Sunday CNN appearance, Fauci implied that the federal government could have done more sooner to prepare for and mitigate the crisis, and that there was “pushback” to a shutdown from within the White House.
Fauci began Monday’s briefing by eating crow and saying Trump immediately took action on his and other public health officials’ recommendations on dealing with the crisis. Then, Trump was asked about the “#FireFauci” retweet.
“Well, I was called about that. I said, ‘I’m not firing.’ In fact, if you ask your friends in the public relations office, I was immediately called upon that, and I said, ‘No, I like him. I think he’s terrific.’ Because this was a person’s view,” Trump insisted. Fauci was present at the briefing.
“Not everybody’s happy with Anthony,” he added. “Not everybody’s happy with everybody, but I will tell you, we have done a job the likes of which nobody has ever done.”
Trump calls reporter “so disgraceful”
Questioned later by CBS’s Paula Reid about what he did to prepare for the crisis in the months between the danger of the virus becoming known and the mandatory shutdowns beginning in mid-March, Trump responded with a typical level-headedness.
“The argument is that you bought yourself some time [by restricting travel to China],” Reid said. “You didn’t use it to prepare hospitals. You didn’t use it to ramp up testing. Right now, nearly 20 million people are unemployed. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead.”
“You’re so disgraceful,” he told Reid, cutting her off.
Later, Reid repeated her question. “What did your administration do in February with the time that your travel ban bought you?” she asked. Trump responded: “A lot,” and said the White House would “give her a list.”
“You know you’re a fake, you know that?” Trump said later.
Trump says presidential authority “is total”
Yesterday, two groups of states on the coasts, all but one of whom have Democratic governors, announced plans for working groups to cooperate on how and when to reopen their regions.
Asked if this would undermine his authority, Trump said no.
“The President of the United States has the authority to do what the President has the authority to do, which is very powerful,” Trump said. Later, he added: “They can’t do anything without the approval of the President of the United States.”
Trump was then asked if he thought he could order the states to reopen if they refused to. He avoided a direct answer and instead implied there would be political fallout for those governors, saying of a potential refusal to reopen: “That’s something that’s not going to happen.”
Because this didn’t actually explain anything, Trump was asked near the end of the press conference to clarify what his authority over governors was.
“When you say my authority, the president’s authority, not mine, because it’s not me,” Trump said. “This is when somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Monday, April 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)