WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, responding to an onslaught of questions Wednesday about Bob Woodward’s new book on President Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said the commander-in-chief tried to keep the public calm to prevent mass panic.
“The president never downplayed the virus. The president expressed calm,” McEnany told reporters during a briefing less than an hour after the first excerpts emerged of Woodward’s new tome, “Rage,” which includes 18 on-the-record interviews with Trump.
McEnany revealed for the first time that US food supplies were at risk at the peak of the virus as millions of concerned Americans rushed to supermarkets to stock up.
“Our food supply chains were at risk. We could not have mass runs on grocery stores. The markets also, the economy was in play here,” she said.
“We didn’t want it to be a huge crash and panic and he expressed calm from this podium and he has always taken it seriously,” she continued.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnanyEPA
“The president just days after having this discussion with Bob Woodward, said this from this podium, on March 30, he said, ‘I do want them to stay calm, we are doing a great job, if you look at the individual statements they are all true, stay calm, it will go away but it’s important to stay calm,’” the press secretary said.
“So this president does what leaders do — good leaders — it’s stay calm and resolute at a time when you face an insurmountable challenge.”
When asked by one reporter if the president lied to the American public on the threat of COVID-19, McEnany said: “The president has never lied to the American public on COVID.”
Earlier Wednesday, it emerged that Trump told the Washington Post editor in February that he knew the coronavirus was “deadly” but concealed details from the public.
“To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create panic,” the president said in one recorded conversation with Woodward in March.
In another call on Feb. 7, the president warned Woodward how fatal the virus could be, even as he told the nation that everything was under control and that COVID-19 would go away with the heat of summer.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” he said. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than ever your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff.”
McEnany defended the president in that instance as seeking to keep the public calm and touted his actions, including his shutdown of travel from China, the nation’s low case fatality rate and the dozens of therapeutics that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“When you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it’s important to express confidence, it’s important to express calm,” she continued.
Woodward’s interviews with Trump took place between December 2019 and July and covered his response to COVID-19, racial unrest in the US, and his attempts at diplomacy with North Korea.
The book also includes unflattering interviews with top-ranking officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert and a White House coronavirus task force member, who allegedly told Woodward that Trump’s attention span was “like a minus number.”
“His sole purpose is to get re-elected,” Fauci said, according to Woodward. In an interview with Fox News, Fauci denied making those remarks, calling it “very distracting” from the work he was trying to do.
McEnany dismissed Fauci’s criticism of the president on Wednesday and noted that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had been full of praise for Trump’s actions.
“He’s always followed the advice of his medical experts like Dr. Fauci who called his response impressive,” the press secretary said.
Responding to Woodward’s book at a campaign stop in Michigan, Democratic nominee Joe Biden called Trump’s response “beyond despicable.”