Watch Live: White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he wanted to be positive but also that his actions in response to the pandemic came as quickly as practical.
NPR logo Trump Touts Administration's Pandemic Handling

Trump Touts Administration's Pandemic Handling

President Trump speaks during Tuesday's briefing from the White House coronavirus task force. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump speaks during Tuesday's briefing from the White House coronavirus task force.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 7:18 p.m. ET

President Trump acknowledged that he learned only recently about a warning earlier this year from a top adviser about the risks of the coronavirus — but he defended his actions on Tuesday at a news conference.

"I couldn't have done it any better," Trump said about his and the administration's handling of the pandemic.

The president's explanation followed a report about a memo filed by his economic adviser, Peter Navarro, which cautioned about the risks to the United States of the outbreak then mostly afflicting China, where it originated.

Trump said he never saw that document at the time it was submitted, but he conceded it might have been possible that it reached people on his staff. The president downplayed the risks from the coronavirus earlier this year before changing his tune as it then began to ravage the United States.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he wanted to be positive — "I'm a cheerleader for this country. I don't want to create havoc and shock and everything else" — but also that his actions in response to the pandemic came as quickly as practical.

Trump also defended his decisions to shut down travel from China and elsewhere; the president maintained that his response in the latest phase of the pandemic has been stellar.

He read off another list of statistics about the availability of ventilators and the number of tests that Trump said have been performed across the country.

The White House convened its daily briefing at 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Watch Tuesday's briefing live.

Trump endorses $250 billion more for paychecks

The president said he'll ask Congress to authorize another $250 billion for employment paycheck relief; lawmakers are expected to agree.

That could bring the amount designated to help employers and workers to around $600 billion.

Trump spoke on Tuesday with the CEOs of a number of major banks, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup and more, and he said they were supportive of a paycheck protection program and other financial relief he called "an incredible success."

Social distancing recommendations stand

With more than 383,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and over 12,000 deaths, Trump is continuing to ask Americans to maintain social distancing through the end of the month to help control the spread of the pandemic.

Tuesday's briefing followed a day of staffing shake-ups on the White House communications team, including a move back to the East Wing for Stephanie Grisham, who had been press secretary and communications director.

Trump has also demoted Glenn Fine, the head of the panel of federal watchdogs overseeing the administration's management of the $2 trillion economic relief package. Fine will return to his position as the principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Defense.

Trump replaced Fine with Sean W. O'Donnell, the inspector general at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump didn't address Fine's ouster in detail on Tuesday except to say that he felt suspicious about inspectors general who had been held over from President Barack Obama's administration.

Many federal inspectors general are presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed for terms that can last through elections. They also oversee offices that include career employees charged with keeping a distance from their agencies to provide oversight of their functions or spending.

Trump's relationships with inspectors general have been fraught, including that with the inspector general of the intelligence community — a key player in the Ukraine affair and impeachment — and the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, whose report this week embarrassed the administration.

Democrats blasted Trump's demotion of Fine, which was the latest battle in a longer political war over how to monitor how trillions of dollars in pandemic relief are being used.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D.-N.Y., who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, called Trump's move a "blatant attempt to degrade the independence of inspectors general who serve as checks against waste, fraud, and abuse."

Trump: Navy secretary's resignation "unselfish"

Also Tuesday, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned after firing, and then deriding, a ship commander who complained that thousands of crew members remained on board after cases of the coronavirus were confirmed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Trump said on Tuesday that he hadn't asked for Modly to step down, but he called it a "very unselfish thing to do" because the president said he thought it now means the Navy can begin to move forward.

Army Undersecretary James McPherson, who has been in his role since just late last month, has been designated to serve as the replacement acting Navy secretary.

Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite, the U.S. envoy to Norway, was nominated last month to serve as the permanent secretary of the Navy. But he has not yet had a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and with the operations of Washington badly jangled by the pandemic, it isn't clear when the Senate might convene again to consider his nomination.

Trump blasts WHO

The president complained on Tuesday about what he called the "China-centric" bias of the World Health Organization and said he'd investigate whether he could freeze U.S. funding for that agency.

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It wasn't immediately clear what unilateral authority Trump might have. The president's budget proposal from earlier this year called for a cut in funding both for the WHO and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That budget was never destined for passage with a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, and much of its political statement-making has been overtaken by events.

So one question — depending on the degree to which Trump pursues his feud with the WHO — is what previous law or appropriations bill is now active and how much discretion the president may have in terms of disbursing funds to the WHO.

Trump and other critics point to what they've called unworthy praise for China by the WHO and undeserved criticism of the United States. And more than one commentator — including, for example, Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation — have pointed to the WHO as what they call an example of Chinese co-option of global institutions.

The organization and its leader, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have been too willing to be "China's puppets," Schaefer wrote.