“It basically was hope for the best, prepare for the worst, stay calm and begin to attack this virus from China on four different vectors,” Navarro said, attempting to walk through the White House’s behind-the-scenes strategy beginning on February 7, the same day as Trump’s comments to Woodward on the virus’ deadliness. But the adviser repeatedly avoided Tapper’s question about the President’s contradictory statements.
The comments from the three officials demonstrate how far some members of Trump’s party are willing to go to defend the President amid harsh criticism from Democrats following Woodward’s reporting. But as Trump received the backing Sunday, he faces a segment of American voters who disapprove of his handling of the pandemic as the country surpasses 193,000 deaths.
Trump publicly downplayed the threat of cornavirus for weeks after his initial comments to Woodward, and he told Woodward on March 19 he did so purposefully. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in a recorded interview. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
McDaniel, when asked Sunday about the view that Trump downplayed the virus for political reasons, told NBC that she disagreed “that the President took political calculations into a global pandemic like we’ve never seen before that has decimated not just our country but countries across the world.”
“The President was calm and steady and methodical,” she continued, going on to list several things she said the President did to respond to the virus, including setting up a task force and restricting travel from China earlier this year.
Miller, meanwhile, told ABC that Trump is not continuing to downplay the severity of the virus, but is instead “accurately saying that Americans are starting to safely and responsibly reopen all around the country.”
And Tapper pressed Navarro Sunday on the emerging bipartisan consensus that Trump should have been more straightforward with the American people about the seriousness of the virus. In response, Navarro claimed that in the early days of the pandemic, the US was in the “fog of war” and that there were “competing views as to whether this is simply the flu or whether this is very serious” at the time, despite the President’s own recorded comments on the severity of the virus.
Asked again why the President was not straightforward with Americans, Navarro answered, “He was straightforward,” before going on to attack Democratic politicians and the media.
Navarro had privately warned White House officials early on about the seriousness of the virus. He pointed to a memo he said he wrote on February 9 saying, among other things, that the US could have a vaccine by the end of the year “if we start right now.” He said he wrote this “under the advice of the President in terms of getting on this situation because it might be serious.”
CNN’s DJ Judd and Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.