For the first time since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, President Donald Trump faced questions from reporters on Friday afternoon in the White House Rose Garden. And some of the most contentious exchanges involved his own exposure to the virus.
Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, was among the first to raise the issue, explaining to the president, “You’re asking people who come back from Europe, Americans coming back from Europe, to self-quarantine for a couple of weeks. You were in a picture with somebody who now has coronavirus from Brazil at Mar-a-Lago.” He asked, “How is that different?”
When Trump defensively replied, “Well, first of all, I’m not coming back from someplace,” Mason said, “But you were exposed.”
“There was somebody that they say has it, I have no idea who he is,” Trump said of the Brazilian government official who later tested positive for the coronavirus. “But I take pictures and it lasts for literally seconds. I don’t know the gentleman that we’re talking about, I have no idea who he is. I haven’t seen the picture.” He added that he did “sit with the president [of Brazil] for probably two hours, but he’s tested negative, so that’s good.” President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly denied initial reports that he tested positive as well.
Moments later, CBS News’ White House correspondent Weijia Jiang followed up on Mason’s line of questioning, saying, “the person you were standing next to, whether you know who he is or not, tested positive for coronavirus. Dr. Fauci said this morning if you stand next to somebody who tested positive, you should self-isolate and get a test. You say your White House doctor is telling you something different. Who should Americans listen to?”
At first, Trump answered by saying Americans should “listen to their doctors” and “shouldn’t be jumping to get the test unless it’s necessary.” But after Jiang pointedly asked, “Are you being selfish by not getting tested?” Trump seemed to change his tune.
“I didn’t say I wasn’t going to be tested,” he said.
“Are you going to be?” Jiang asked.
“Most likely,” Trump replied. “Not for that reason but because I think I will do it anyway.”
Again, this was just moments after he urged Americans not to seek out coronavirus tests if they are not symptomatic.
But that wasn’t the question that got under Trump’s skin the most. Earlier in the press conference, Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour, asked if he takes any “responsibility” for disbanding the National Security Council’s global health security unit.
“I just think it’s a nasty question,” Trump shot back before patting himself on the back and claiming not to know anything about that consequential decision. “I mean, you say we did that,” he added. “I don’t know anything about it.”