President Donald Trump and the White House coronavirus task force spent nearly 20 minutes answer questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta on Tuesday.
Acosta brought up about 15 different questions and interjections as the task force offered him detailed information about the virus and President Trump’s response to the outbreak.
Trump was non-combative with Acosta, referring to him as “Jim” throughout the briefing and did not berate him or any other reporter as “fake news” for their questions.
Acosta first asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to repeat that Americans should expect at least 100,000 Americans to die from the virus and whether the country could handle 50,000 deaths a month.
“The answer is yes,” Fauci said. “As sobering as that number is, we should be prepared for it.”
Fauci said that it would be difficult and that what was happening in New York City should be a wakeup call to what the rest of the country could face.
Dr. Deborah Birx said that it was essential for metro areas in the country to act quickly to stop the spread of the virus, and Fauci said that the numbers could be even lower.
“Now is the time to put your foot on the accelerator because that’s the only thing that’s going to stop those peaks,” he said.
Acosta then asked President Trump if he would order cities to “get with the program” on social distancing, especially states like Florida that had not enacted a “stay at home” order.
Trump said that many cities were doing very well at containing the virus, some doing an incredible job in comparison with New York City.
Acosta asked Trump about whether there was a ventilator shortage and whether the federal government was stockpiling the devices so they could “pick and choose” who got them.
Trump said the federal government was not sending ventilators to states for stockpiling but would hold on to them until they were needed so they could deploy them quickly.
“We are ready, Jim, depending on what happens, and we have a stockpile and that’s why it’s called a stockpile,” Trump said.
Acosta asked whether hospitals should be prepared for a “medical war zone.”
“They’re going to be facing a war zone — that’s what it is,” Trump said.
Acosta later asked what he described as “uncomfortable” and “painful” questions about whether the president and his team could have prevented the number of deaths by enacting restrictions on Americans as early as January and February.
Both Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci said it was unclear when the virus started spreading throughout the country without being diagnosed.
“In a perfect world, it would have been nice to know what was going on there, and we didn’t,” Fauci said. “But I believe, Jim, that we acted very, very early in that.”
Trump reminded Acosta that he was the one that leveled a travel ban on China in January.
Acosta then asked Trump if he “lulled Americans into a false sense of security” by downplaying the possible impact of the virus in the United States and whether his understanding of the virus had “evolved.”
“I knew how bad it was. All you have to do is to look at what was going on in China,” Trump said.
He defended his early comments as an effort to offer hope to the American people.
“It would be so much easier to be negative,” he said. “I’m a positive person … This is really easy to be negative about, but I want to give people hope too.”
Finally, Acosta asked if Trump was finally taking responsibility for failing to act sooner.
“You don’t like the question, but are you now taking responsibility for how things go at this point?” Acosta asked.
“I don’t mind your question,” Trump said. “I think it’s actually — I know you well enough. It’s not meant to be a fair question, but it is a fair question.”
Trump said that he felt that he had done a “great job” handling the virus, noting that early models showed that two million people could have died.
“We had great professionals, great military, really great governors and politicians, I cannot say enough about what’s going on,” Trump said. “I think we’re way ahead of schedule in terms of numbers … the country has done a great job.”