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Trump Says More Testing Makes U.S. 'Look Bad,' But Its Availability Remains A Concern

President Trump, seen here in the Oval Office on Wednesday, holds up a chart showing that the United States has done more total tests than a number of peer nations.
Saul Loeb
AFP via Getty Images
President Trump, seen here in the Oval Office on Wednesday, holds up a chart showing that the United States has done more total tests than a number of peer nations.

The coronavirus has in recent days edged closer to President Trump. At least two White House aides who've been in proximity to the president and the vice president have tested positive for COVID-19.

Because of that, three key members of the Trump administration's pandemic response team are quarantining themselves: Drs. Robert Redfield, Stephen Hahn and Anthony Fauci. Redfield is head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hahn heads up the Food and Drug Administration and Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is the nation's top infectious disease expert.

All three, plus the assistant secretary for health, Dr. Brett Giroir, are slated to testify before a key Senate committee Tuesday. The hearing, which is ironically titled "COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School," will now be done via video conference.

The chair of that committee, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, is also self-quarantining. His office announced Sunday night that a member of the staff tested positive for COVID-19. Alexander will chair Tuesday's hearing from Tennessee.

In recent days, Alexander has said that the coronavirus testing the United States has done so far is "not nearly enough," and "there is no safe path forward to combat the novel coronavirus without adequate testing."

Trump has touted the overall number of tests that have been conducted in the country — now more than 8 million. But at times he's read a different message in them.

"If we did very little testing, [America] wouldn't have the most cases," Trump said Wednesday. "So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad."

And Trump's reservations about testing appear to be rooted in politics. Trump said Friday he believes some Democrats hope the economy doesn't bounce back.

"I will tell you, you look at some cases, some people think they're doing it for politics," Trump said on Fox News Channel. "Here we go again. But they think they're doing it because it'll hurt me, the longer it takes to — hurt me in the election, the longer it takes to open up."

But Trump's focus on how the pandemic makes him and the nation look doesn't get the country closer to being prepared and able to live with the coronavirus.

"We have to figure out how to live with this virus, and that's what we're not doing," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday.

On the White House schedule Monday: a press briefing about testing.

5 things to watch this week

1. Climbing coronavirus death toll: The confirmed number of Americans who have now died from the coronavirus is about 80,000. At a rate of 1,000 to 2,000 deaths per day, the U.S. would surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 between May 21 and May 31. The country's curve has plateaued, but it appears to have a long tail. And that flattening is masked by New York and New Jersey's daily new cases coming down, because new cases are on the rise in other places.


2. Those CDC guidelines for reopening: If you're wondering why — despite access to some of the top scientists in the world — there haven't been clearer and more detailed reopening guidelines for states, businesses and religious institutions coming from the federal government, you're not alone. And now we know why: The White House buried them. The guidelines from the CDC were shelved, the AP reported.

Following the publication of the report, CDC Director Redfield issued a statement that appeared to run contrary to his published internal emails. He took responsibility and said the document was "shared prematurely," "was in draft form and had not been vetted through the interagency review process." Because of that, Redfield added, he "was not yet comfortable releasing a final work product."

Will the CDC release new guidelines at some point now that this is out there?

3. Will the White House push for another relief package — or not? White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on CNN's State of the Union Sunday that another relief package would be "premature" given the others that have already passed and trillions total in aid. "We think that we have a little moment, the luxury of a moment, to learn about what's going on so that the next step that we take can be prudent." Luxury of a moment? The country on Friday hit its highest unemployment rate, 14.7%, since the Great Depression, most economists think that number is actually higher, and Americans lost a whopping 20 million jobs — in one month.

4. U.S. Supreme Court on religious freedom, Trump's financial records and faithless electors: People may be home, but the Supreme Court justices are working — even if remotely. On Monday, the court considers arguments about whether lay teachers at parochial schools are protected from discrimination or whether the schools can have carte blanche in hiring and firing.

On Tuesday, it's Trump's financial records and whether Congress has the power to subpoena records from when before Trump was president — and whether those can be used in a potential criminal investigation.

On Wednesday, the quirky Electoral College system sees a challenge. Electors are actually people, and sometimes they don't go the way their state voted. The court considers whether that's OK.

For everyone's sake, let's hope those mute buttons are working better this week, especially close to any toilets.

5. Will Bright be reinstated? Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a key agency in vaccine development, will testify before a House committee Thursday. It comes after he filed a whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration for being dismissed from his position, he says, for sounding alarms about the coronavirus early on and expressing opposition to unproven treatments favored by Trump. Bright's lawyers say the Office of Special Counsel has made a determination that he was dismissed for retaliation and should be temporarily reinstated while the office investigates. Trump has ignored the same office's recommendations before, but Bright's case will continue to be in the public eye, especially this week — and as the pandemic fallout continues.

Quote of the weekend

"It would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of 'what's in it for me' and 'to heck with everybody else' — when that mindset is operationalized in our government."

— Former President Barack Obama on the Trump administration's coronavirus response. The comments were revealed in a leaked recording of Obama speaking to a group of members of his administration.

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Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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