Friday Night (Briefing Room) Fights: Trump Spars with Jim Acosta, Weijia Jiang

News & Politics

With the grave coronavirus pandemic worsening this week, the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings have been far more sobering and less combative than past episodes. Sunday and Monday featured fireworks, but it wasn’t until Friday’s that tensions resurfaced as President Trump squared off in two exchanges with CNN’s Jim Acosta and CBS’s Weijia Jiang

Acosta inquired at 6:03 p.m. Eastern about the whereabouts of the NIH’s Dr. Tony Fauci, likely seeking to follow up on a CNN report flashing as a chyron during the briefing that Fauci had been purposefully sidelined from appearing.

Trump clearly sensed what Acosta was up to and promptly drove a stake through the heart of the manufactured tension, lamenting that “every time you ask a question,” reporters think there’s “a problem.” In reality, Trump replied that there’s “no problem” and “we’re doing great together.”

Fake News Jim gave up and asked if he could change subjects, which Trump quipped: “We’re covering a different subject? Okay, go ahead, Jim. Try another one.”

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Acosta used his second chance to further ram down our throats the media-fed notion that the Trump administration’s failures to deal with the pandemic date back at least a year. Why? Because HHS Secretary Alex Azar said he (and many others) have seen the threat of a “pandemic flu” as something that “keeps you most up at night.”

“Your own Health and Human Services secretary was aware that this had potential of being a very big problem around the world, a pandemic of this nature. Who dropped the ball?” Acosta wondered.

Get work, Jim. Trying to place blame on the U.S. when the blame should belong to China (and only China).

Both Azar and Trump dispatched with Acosta’s nonsense with Azar making the astute point that this coronavirus has been entirely new to mankind and has thus presented challenges compared to sister illnesses MERS and SARS.

Acosta continued to interject and tussled with the President until he had to be told: “We’ll get it back. We’ll get you back. We’ll get you back. Please? Jim, I said we’ll get you back [later].”

Speaking of manufactured nonsense, Jiang came four questions later and wondered why senior adviser Jared Kushner referred on Thursday to “the federal stockpile” (containing Personal Protective Equipment and ventilators) as “our stock pile,” as if to suggest states wouldn’t have access.

Trump also diagnosed this attempt at creating controversy. Repeatedly groaning about her “gotcha” question, he explained that Kushner clearly meant the United States had access to it when he said “our,” but it would be dispersed at the federal government’s discretion.

Jiang didn’t accept his explanation, so the President called her out and moved on (click “expand”):

TRUMP: I mean, it’s such a basic, simple question, and you try and make it sound so bad.

JIANG: It’s not bad. I’m just trying to understand.

TRUMP: You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

JIANG: No! By the way, Secretary Azar —

TRUMP: It’s such a simple question. He said “our” and our means for the country and our means —

JIANG: — “It’s not supposed to be their stockpile.”

TRUMP: — for the states because the states are a part of the country. Don’t make it sound bad. Don’t make it sound bad. Go ahead, Steve. Go ahead. Back here.

JIANG: But the HHS even changed the language on the website.

TRUMP: You just asked your question. You just asked your question in a very nasty tone.

JIANG: I didn’t think it was nasty. You didn’t give me an answer.

TRUMP: Please. I gave you a perfect answer. You know it.

ABC chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl circled back to Jiang’s question and insisted that “it was a very important question” and the public needed to know whether Kushner misspoke.

Trump replied that his son-in-law hadn’t and prompted demolished this manufactured confusion (click “expand”):

TRUMP: We are taking what’s in the federal stockpile and we’re helping states all over the country. But we also want to keep some because when the surge comes, when you hit the peaks, we’re going to need – we have to have the flexibility to take those ventilators and bring them to Louisiana, New York, Detroit, different places. That’s all.

KARL: But you will use them for other states?

TRUMP: Of course, we’re not using them anywhere else. We’re not going to be using them, Jon, anywhere else. But we want the flexibility. Because, you know, we don’t even know when the surge is coming, but it’s coming soon and it’s goings to be big and some areas won’t have it. Some areas will be pleasantly surprised. Just like we’ve been. You look at the chart. States that I thought would have been maybe a disaster turned out to be really — they’ve done a great job. Some states are really troubled. But you don’t know. You don’t know. We have great flexibility. I would have preferred giving them all out. We’d have nothing and now when we have a surge, we can’t get them back from where we gave them cause it’s very tough to take them back. So we have tremendous flexibility[.]

White House Press Briefing
April 3, 2020
6:03 p.m. Eastern

JIM ACOSTA: And where is Dr. Fauci?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don’t know, but every time you ask that question, whenever he’s not here, look, you say where is he? And you’ll say is there a problem? No problem whatsoever.

ACOSTA: Can I follow up on that? Okay.

TRUMP: Every time he is not here, sometimes I’ll ask him to come because that’s the first question that you and a couple of others from the fake news establishment ask is where is Dr. Fauci. We’re doing great together.

ACOSTA: Different subject if I may ask?

TRUMP: We’re covering a different subject? Okay, go ahead, Jim. Try another one.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, you have said nobody could have seen this pandemic coming, but in fact, Secretary Azar at a biodefense summit in April 2019 said “Of course the thing that people ask what keeps you most up at night in the biodefense world, pandemic flu, of course. I think everyone in this room probably shares that concern.” Your own Health and Human Services secretary was aware that this had potential of being a very big problem around the world, a pandemic of this nature. Who dropped the ball?

TRUMP: Well, I always knew that pandemics are one of the worst things that could happen. There’s been nothing like this since probably 1917. That was the big one. In Europe, it started actually here and went to Europe, probably. I’ve heard about —

ACOSTA: You’ve also said —

TRUMP: — excuse me, wait a minute, let me finish. I’ve heard about this for a long time, pandemics. You don’t want pandemics And I don’t think he was talking about a specific pandemic. He was talking about the threat of a pandemic could happen And it could happen. Most people thought it wouldn’t, and most people didn’t understand the severity of it. This is a very severe. What’s happened is very severe. But I’d let you answer that. I assume that he was talking about the concept of a pandemic.

ACOSTA: Sure.

HHS SECRETARY ALEX AZAR: Thank you, Mr. President. Absolutely for 15 years now this country has had a massive effort at the federal, state and local level of preparedness for pandemic. Now that largely has been, as I said in those remarks, about pandemic flu preparedness. We knew about SARS. We knew about MERS, which were earlier modifications or variants of the coronavirus. None of those achieved anything like what we’re seeing today, but that’s why for successive presidencies, including the leadership of President Trump, there has been a great focus on pandemic preparedness. In fact, it was just in November, I believe, that the President signed the pandemic flu preparedness executive order that we have — and we have also updated the pandemic crisis action plan, which has been the playbook from which we’ve been working, the pandemic flu plan. Again, the action plan from which we have been working that coordinates the whole of government, the whole economy approach here, so we’ve all been very focused on pandemic preparedness. It’s what we do, but this particular strain of pandemic, who would have known this particular strain.

ACOSTA: Secretary Azar, but Secretary Azar, if you were preparing for pandemic, if this government were preparing for pandemic, why is it we don’t have enough masks? Why is it we don’t have enough medical equipment in this country?

TRUMP: Previous administrations gave us very little ammunition for the military and very little shelf space. [INAUDIBLE ACOSTA SHOUTING] let me just tell it. You know it. You know the answer. The previous administration, the shelves were empty. The shelves were empty.

ACOSTA: And you had time to been stock the shelves.

TRUMP: So what you should do is speak to the people from the previous administration, Jim, and ask them that question. Because the shelves were empty.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, you’ve been office for almost four years.

TRUMP: And you know what else? The military shelves were also empty. We had no ammunition, literally. That was said by one of your favorite generals. We have, sir, we have no ammunition. Guess what? We had very little medical supply also. Alright — go ahead.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, isn’t the hypocritical?

TRUMP: We’ll get it back.

ACOSTA: Mr. President, but — but what about that question?

TRUMP: We’ll get you back. We’ll get you back. Please? Jim, I said we’ll get you back. Please, go ahead.

(….)

6:13 p.m. Eastern

WEIJIA JIANG: Yesterday Jared Kushner said the notion of the federal stockpile was it was supposed to be our stock prime minister. It’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use. What did he mean by our?

TRUMP: Oh, why did you ask it? I mean —

JIAN: And even the fact that taxpayers from every state pay —

TRUMP: — I mean, really. What’s that? A gotcha? A gotcha?

JIANG: — for it. No, it’s not a gotcha. What did he mean by that?

TRUMP: You know what our means? United States of America. That’s what it means.

JIANG: Paid for by the states?

TRUMP: Our, our. It means the United States of America and then we take that “our” and we distribute it to the states.

JIANG: Then why did he say it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use?

TRUMP: Because we need it for the government and we need it for the federal government.

JIANG: To give it to the states?

TRUMP: But when the states are in trouble — no, to also keep —

JIANG: Who are you giving it to, if it’s not for the states?

TRUMP: — to keep for our country because the federal government needs it too, not just the states. But out of that, we oftentimes choose, as an example, we have almost 10,000 ventilators, and we are ready to rock with those ventilators. We’re going bring them to various areas of the country that need them. But when he says “our,” he is talking about our country.

JIANG: Then why didn’t he make a distinction — and sir —

TRUMP: He’s talking — excuse me. He is talking about the federal government. I mean, it’s such a basic, simple question, and you try and make it sound so bad.

JIANG: It’s not bad. I’m just trying to understand.

TRUMP: You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

JIANG: No! By the way, Secretary Azar —

TRUMP: It’s such a simple question. He said “our” and our means for the country and our means —

JIANG: “It’s not supposed to be their stockpile.”

TRUMP: — for the states because the states are a part of the country. Don’t make it sound bad. Don’t make it sound bad. Go ahead, Steve. Go ahead. Back here.

JIANG: But the HHS even changed the language on the website.

TRUMP: You just asked your question. You just asked your question in a very nasty tone.

JIANG: I didn’t think it was nasty. You didn’t give me an answer.

TRUMP: Please. I gave you a perfect answer. You know it.

(….)

6:28 p.m. Eastern

JONATHAN KARL: Mr. President, Mr. President, this is why the question on the stockpile was asked earlier, so important.

TRUMP: I don’t think it was a question.

KARL: No, it was a very important question because what Jared Kushner said yesterday is that the federal stockpile is for use by the federal government, not nor the states to have access to. So, you seem to be saying different. Did Jared Kushner misspeak yesterday? Is that federal stockpile available to the states?

TRUMP: No, no, he didn’t misspeak. He used the word “Our,” okay. Ours, preferring to our country.

KARL: It’s not for the states to use?

TRUMP: The states to best of best of your knowledge are a part of our country. We are taking what’s in the federal stockpile and we’re helping states all over the country. But we also want to keep some because when the surge comes, when you hit the peaks, we’re going to need – we have to have the flexibility to take those ventilators and bring them to Louisiana, New York, Detroit, different places. That’s all.

KARL: But you will use them for other states?

TRUMP: Of course, we’re not using them anywhere else. We’re not going to be using them, Jon, anywhere else. But we want the flexibility. Because, you know, we don’t even know when the surge is coming, but it’s coming soon and it’s goings to be big and some areas won’t have it. Some areas will be pleasantly surprised. Just like we’ve been. You look at the chart. States that I thought would have been maybe a disaster turned out to be really — they’ve done a great job. Some states are really troubled. But you don’t know. You don’t know. We have great flexibility. I would have preferred giving them all out. We’d have nothing and now when we have a surge, we can’t get them back from where we gave them cause it’s very tough to take them back. So we have tremendous flexibility and it could be New York. It could be Louisiana. Those are two that are really rough. New Jersey is very rough and they’ve done a very good job in New Jersey, but New Jersey is very rough.

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