Coronavirus: White House considering scaling back Donald Trump’s role in daily virus briefings

Saturday - 25/04/2020 18:21
White House officials say there are discussions underway to change the format of Donald Trump’s virus briefings. Picture: AP/Alex BrandonSource:AP
White House officials say there are discussions underway to change the format of Donald Trump’s virus briefings. Picture: AP/Alex BrandonSource:AP
US President Donald Trump’s advisers have been urging him for weeks to scale back his coronavirus briefings, which they fear could be hurting his support.

The White House is reportedly considering scaling back Donald Trump’s role in its daily coronavirus briefings after a series of blunders.

There have been discussions about changing the format of the briefings to curtail the US President’s role, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr Trump cut off his briefing on Friday after just 20 minutes without taking any questions from reporters. Usually the addresses stretch well beyond an hour and feature combative exchanges between Mr Trump and reporters.

The president was angry after a day of punishing headlines, largely about his comment at the previous evening’s briefing wondering if it would be helpful to inject disinfectant into people to fight the coronavirus.

READ MORE: Follow the latest virus news

Mr Trump has been conducting daily briefings about how the coronavirus outbreak is tracking in the United States. Picture: AFP/Olivier Douliery
Mr Trump has been conducting daily briefings about how the
coronavirus outbreak is tracking in the United States.
Picture: AFP/Olivier DoulierySource:AFP
 
The briefings often go beyond an hour and feature combative exchanges between the President and reporters. Picture: AP/Alex Brandon
The briefings often go beyond an hour and feature combative exchanges
between the President and reporters. Picture: AP/Alex BrandonSource:AP

That idea drew loud warnings from health experts who said the idea was dangerous, and sharp criticism from Democrats.

“We must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” said a statement from the parent of the company that makes Dettol, Reckitt Benckiser.

“Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances” declared the Clorox Co.

TRUMP CLAIMS COMMENT WAS ‘SARCASTIC’

Mr Trump did answer questions from reporters earlier on Friday and claimed that his suggestion about disinfectant had been “sarcastic”.

“I was asking the question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen,” he said. Though a transcript of his remarks showed otherwise.

RELATED: Makers of popular disinfectant brands address comments

RELATED: Trump corrected after lashing out at ‘misquoted’ comments

The president had noted at the briefing that research was underway into the effect disinfectants had on the virus and wondered aloud if they could be injected into people.

“Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” he had asked. “Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

The US Surgeon General’s office then tweeted a reminder to all Americans: “Please always talk to your health provider first before administering any treatment/ medication to yourself or a loved one.” 

FEARS BRIEFINGS COULD HURT SUPPORT

For weeks, advisers have been urging Mr Trump to scale back his appearances at the briefings, saying that he should come before the cameras only when there is major news or a positive development to discuss, according to the officials.

Otherwise, they suggested, he should leave it to Vice President Mike Pence and health officials to take the lead.

 

Advisers have suggested US Vice President Mike Pence might be better suited to take the lead. Picture: AFP/Olivier Douliery
Advisers have suggested US Vice President Mike Pence might be better suited to take the lead.
Picture: AFP/Olivier DoulierySource:AFP
 

Mr Trump has been reluctant to cede the spotlight at the briefings, which are the closest thing he currently has to his beloved political rallies.

He has talked up their robust television ratings and his ability to dominate the news cycle and drown out his likely general election opponent, Democrat Joe Biden.

But advisers have argued that while the briefings may appeal to his most loyal base of supporters, they could be alienating some viewers, including senior citizens worried about their health.

Officials at Mr Trump’s reelection campaign have also noted a slip in his support in some battleground states and have expressed concerns that the briefings, which often contain inaccurate information, may be playing a role.

“People expect presidents to speak with authority all the time,” said Edward Frantz, a presidential historian at the University of Indianapolis.

“You can’t pick and choose the times as president when you are going to act presidential … and then say to the public, ‘You’re supposed to understand I was being sarcastic.’”

 

Mr Trump says he was being sarcastic when he made the comment. Picture: AFP/Olivier Douliery
Mr Trump says he was being sarcastic when he made the comment.
Picture: AFP/Olivier DoulierySource:AFP
 

WHITE HOUSE DEFENDS COMMENT

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president had taken “countless questions” earlier in the day from reporters in the Oval Office.

“The accessibility and transparency of this president is unprecedented,” she said.

Mr Trump, who is known for changing his mind, has not committed to any permanent change in the briefing format, the officials said.

It was unclear if Mr Trump’s decision not to take questions on Friday was connected to a kerfuffle in the briefing room moments before the task force presentation began.

A White House official had asked that two reporters switch seats, which would have sent the CNN correspondent farther back in the room. CNN is a frequent target of Mr Trump’s criticism.

The reporters declined to move.

- With wires

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 Keywords: Donald Trump, Coronavirus

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