A day after the White House requested $1.25 billion in emergency funding to address the growing worldwide coronavirus crisis, Larry Kudlow, the President’s chief economic adviser, appeared on CNBC.
The coronavirus, Kudlow said on February 25, was “contained.”
“I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” he said. Kudlow noted the stock market was “cheaper” implying investors could buy a dip in stocks, saying of coronavirus, “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.” He did add “it may be out there, I don’t want to negate it.”
Later that same evening, Kayleigh McEnany, then a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign and now the White House press secretary, appeared on Fox Business Network.
“This President will always put America first,” she said, speaking of Trump’s travel restrictions on China. “He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.”
By then, the US already had 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus and the CDC warned there would be “community spread” within the country, though the number could have been much higher, as testing for the virus was severely limited.
The comments are just two examples of 18 from spokespeople for the Trump campaign and White House officials downplaying the coronavirus and minimizing the potential impacts on the economy and Trump’s re-election campaign. The comments came as the crisis slowly– and then quickly – spiraled out of control.
Even as the death toll continued to rise and the stock market continued to plunge as the virus spread, Trump officials confidently projected that the United States was either ahead of the curve in responding to the virus or that the risk to the average Americans was low and there would be minimal impact.
These comments came as some White House officials and intelligence agencies warned privately of a pandemic, saying it could claim millions of lives and inflict trillions in economic damage.
President Donald Trump echoed those comments himself, oscillating between claiming the virus was like a flu and would disappear miraculously to claiming that “maybe” the coronavirus improved US job numbers to blaming the media for overhyping the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the coronavirus taskforce, was more cautious in media appearances. He told NBC’s “The Today Show” on February 29, “There’s no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day by day basis. Right now the risk is still low, but this could change,” but added that when the US saw the beginnings of “community spread” guidance could change quickly.
In March, Fauci advocated Americans follow the social distancing guidelines outlined by the federal government and said he occasionally disagreed with Trump, at one point recommending against events with large crowds. Meanwhile, some White House officials and Trump campaign staffers continued to convey confidence and certainty that it wasn’t irresponsible to continue to hold rallies and events.
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At the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, in late February, top White House officials including Kudlow, then-acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Joe Grogan, the director of domestic policy at the White House, all made comments downplaying the potential impact of virus.
“This is just a temporary blip in the markets,” Grogan said on February 28.
At the same time, two top officials from Trump’s campaign, Marc Lotter and Tim Murtaugh, made public statements that Americans’ risk from the virus was low and the economic impact would be minimal.
“I think people can rest easy that the risk to the general population is extraordinarily low,” Murtaugh said on March 2, the same day the US surpassed 100 confirmed cases, according to a CNN tally.
Lotter said on March 3, “The risk to the average American is very low from this and the government is responding accordingly. They’re taking the necessary steps to make sure that everyone is protected and that the information gets out there.”
As late as March 11, the same day the NBA halted their season and Trump suspended most travel to Europe, the campaign made more news when McEnany said the President would not be canceling rallies.
White House spokesperson Judd Deere told CNN that while the media and Democrats focused on impeachment and refused to seriously acknowledge the virus in January and February, “President Trump took bold action to protect Americans and unleash the full power of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus, expand testing capacities, and expedite vaccine development when we had no true idea the level of transmission or asymptomatic spread.”
Trump campaign spokesperson Murtaugh told CNN that the President “acted early and decisively” in handling the coronavirus, citing the China travel restrictions.
“The President has a responsibility to project calm to the American people, which is what the campaign expressed as well. The coronavirus crisis will pass and President Trump has great optimism that the United States will thrive and prosper when it is over,” said Murtaugh.
Republican National Committee spokesperson Steve Guest told CNN that “nearly everyone,” including Democrats and the media made similar comments at the time. He added that the President’s steps to “limit worse fallout from the virus” were “mocked as xenophobic by Democrats and the media at the time.”
Here’s a timeline of the comments:
Feb. 24, 2020: White House trade adviser Peter Navarro publicly said Americans had “nothing to worry about” while he privately warned the White House that the coronavirus pandemic could cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of American lives.
“Since the day that President Trump pulled down the flights from China to the US, he has been actively leading the situation in terms of this crisis with the task force,” Navarro said in a press statement outside the White House. “Nothing to worry about for the American people.”
Feb. 25, 2020: White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said in an interview on CNBC that the US had coronavirus “contained” and it was “pretty close to airtight.” Kudlow added the coronavirus was a “human tragedy,” but “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.” He added that investors should “very seriously” look at purchasing stocks after they decline in value.
Feb. 25, 2020: Speaking on Fox Business, then-Trump campaign spokeswoman and current White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said because of travel policies enacted by the President, the coronavirus would not continue to come to the United States.
“This President will always put America first,” she said. “He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here. And isn’t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?”
What happened that day: The US confirmed 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus as a top CDC official warned there would be “community spread” in the US, adding it was “a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”
Feb. 26, 2020: McEnany, then serving as a Trump campaign spokeswoman, told Fox Business that the virus had “not in the slightest” chance of affecting the President’s re-election campaign and praised the President for having the crisis under control.
“The President has this under control, and America will see that – just like with every single international incident – he knows what he’s doing,” she said.
What happened that day: Trump shook up his coronavirus task force team by appointing Vice President Mike Pence as its leader after privately expressing frustration with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to administration sources. Azar told the press that the coronavirus posed a “low” immediate risk but noted “we can expect to see more cases in the United States.”
Feb. 26, 2020: Lotter said in a radio interview that the stock market fallout from the coronavirus would recover quickly, comparing the market recovery to the Ebola and SARS outbreaks.
“Even with this dip in the stock market, when we went through the Ebola scares and the SARS scares from many years ago, the stock market drops 20 percent and then quickly rebounded. Well, right now after the last few days, we’re at 8 percent. So we’re not on anything along those lines,” said Lotter. “And I’m confident and I’ve even, you know, already started to hear experts saying buy the dip, buy the dip. And I have a feeling you’ll see a lot of that starting to happen here in the coming weeks. And as this situation plays itself out, that we’ll see, that we’ll see the markets quickly recover.”
What happened that day: The Dow and the S&P 500 declined for the fifth day in a row with the Dow having lost nearly 2,400 points in a little less than a week, according to a report from CNN Business.
Feb 28, 2020: Kudlow told CPAC attendees that the coronavirus said that socialism, not the coronavirus, would sink the US economy, saying Trump took “unprecedented and historical steps to contain the virus.”
“The virus is not going to sink the American economy,” Kudlow said. “What is or could sink the American economy is the socialism coming from our friends on the other side of the aisle.”
“And when you look at the numbers so far, God bless, we don’t know what’s ahead of us. The numbers so far are very low. We’re in good shape,” said Kudlow earlier.
What happened that day: Bill Gates penned an op-ed calling the coronavirus could be “once-in-century pandemic.”
Feb. 28, 2020: Grogan appeared on a conservative podcast and claimed the United States was “way ahead of the rest of the world” on coronavirus. He noted the coronavirus caused “a temporary blip in the markets” and that “we will get through it. It will be fine.”
“We are hustling on this. We are way ahead of the rest of the world. We have the best healthcare system, the best public health system in the world, and the best scientists working on this,” said Grogan. “We will get through it. It will be fine. And this is just a temporary blip in the markets…We have an incredibly resilient economy.”
What happened that day: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell wrote in a rare statement that while the fundamentals of the US economy are strong, the coronavirus “poses evolving risks to economic activity.” Trump expressed support for the Fed to “get involved” by slashing interest rates.
Feb. 28, 2020: Mulvaney was interviewed at CPAC and accused the media of covering the coronavirus so much because “they think this is going to be what brings down the President.”
“The reason you’re paying so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the President. That’s what this is all about,” said Mulvaney.
Mulvaney went on to acknowledge that the coronavirus “absolutely is real,” but stressed that “This is not Ebola, OK? … It’s not SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), it’s not MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).”
What happened that day: After coming into contact with one CPAC attendee who later tested positive for the coronavirus, a host of Republican lawmakers would self-quarantine for 14 days.
Feb. 28, 2020: Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel blamed prominent Democrats for tanking the stock market and accused them of stoking fears of coronavirus for political purposes in a radio interview.
“I think it’s a short bump. I think having Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and (New York Mayor Bill) de Blasio yesterday trying to stoke fears for political purposes, we don’t have many cases here in the United States,” McDaniel said.
“But I do think that they are using this as a political tactic and we’re seeing that affect the markets. And it will even out,” she said, later adding “Long term, as an investor, I think we’re going to be fine.”
What happened that day: The US confirmed its 60th case of coronavirus and medical officials in California said one case indication there is evidence of community transmission.
March 2, 2020: Murtaugh said in a radio interview that the US is in better shape to tackle the coronavirus than other countries such as China, Italy and Iran. He noted “the risk to the general population is extraordinarily low.”
“People are rightfully a little bit nervous about this. It’s an unknown sort of virus that’s on the scene, and they need to know that the government is taking care of it,” said Murtaugh. “The government is taking all measures to protect them. The United States is in a far better position than these foreign countries. You hear about China and Italy and certainly Iran.
“I think people can rest easy that the risk to the general population is extraordinarily low,” added Murtaugh.
March 3, 2020: Lotter said in a radio interview the risk to the average American was very low. “You saw the Vice President standing in the White House briefing room with the head of the CDC, with the Secretary of Health and Human Services answering questions from the White House media corps,” Lotter said. “Reassuring the American people that you should go out and live your life. The risk to the average American is very low from this and the government is responding accordingly. They’re taking the necessary steps to make sure that everyone is protected and that the information gets out there.”
What happened that day: A man in Westchester County, New York tests positive, suggesting there was localized spread. An estimated 1,000 people would eventually end up quarantined.
March 6, 2020: Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway got into a heated exchange with a reporter saying the coronavirus was contained.
“It is being contained and – do you not think it’s being contained in this country,” Conway said in the White House briefing room. “You said it’s not being contained … You just said something that’s not true.”
What happened that day: The coronavirus death toll in Washington state rose to 14.
March 6, 2020: Kudlow tells CNBC in an interview that Americans should still buy the dip and the virus is contained, at one point comparing it to the seasonal flu.
“So far, It looks relatively contained and we don’t think most people – I mean the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus,” Kudlow said.
What happened that day: There were now 227 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US per a CNN tally.
March 6, 2020: Murtaugh says the press is being “sensational” about coronavirus and said Trump was “ahead of the curve” on coronavirus, adding that most of the media was “rooting” for the stock market to tank.
“I think the President has made it pretty clear that he is, he moved faster than the other countries did. He’s got the United States ahead of the curve,” he said in a radio interview.
What happened that day: 44 people in New York state were confirmed to have coronavirus.
March 9, 2020: Murtaugh says that Trump was “way ahead of the curve” in recognizing and reacting to the virus in a radio interview.
“The President appointed a task force to look at it and go after the coronavirus on January 31. That was a long time ago. That was well before any of this hysteria really got started. And in fact that was 12 days before the World Health Organization even gave the virus a name. So the President was way ahead of the curve and against political advice.”
“The fact is the President is on top of the situation,” he added. “The fundamentals of the economy are broad and strong and that we’re going to be just fine.”
What happened that day: North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, goes into self-quarantine as a protective measure, after potentially coming into contact with a CPAC attendee who tested positive for Covid-19. The Dow Jones had its worst point drop on record, falling more than 2,000 points, or 7.8%, the worst day on record since the 2008 financial crisis.
March 10, 2020: McEnany says in a radio interview that the President is advising people to wash their hands and maintain good hygiene to combat the virus, and that “this is something that is under control.”
“We’re just taking the same common sense measures that the President has instructed America to take. Look this, obviously you want to take seriously. Good hygiene habits, washing your hands and making sure not to touch a doorknob and then touch your eye. But, you know, outside of those common sense measures, this is something that is under control.”
What happened that day: The 22nd person dies in King County, Washington, an early hotspot of the virus in America, as the total US death toll reaches 29.
March 11, 2020: McEnany said in a radio interview that Democrats were just focusing on the coronavirus because impeachment was over, and that Trump stopped it from being worse than it could have been:
“We knew when impeachment was over, they’d find something else to glom onto. This President’s taken unprecedented action to protect this country from the coronavirus. He stopped it from being so much worse than it could have been, but leave it to the media, and to the left to score cheap political points.”
In another interview on a radio show, McEnany said that it wasn’t irresponsible to continue to hold rallies and events:
“I’d say that the President says this is safe. Dr Fauci has said, you know, it depends on the location. As long as you’re not having it in a hot spot where there’s a big outbreak, like outside of New York for instance, then it’s safe to proceed. So, you know, as long as the experts say it continues to be safe, then we follow that lead that; we will proceed as normal. And you’ll take precautions as I said, but not panic because we have a president leading on this.”
Note: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, actually disagreed with Trump and said he recommended against events with large crowds.
What happened that day: The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in the US reached 1,000 and the American death toll rose to 31. The global death toll surpassed 4,200. The NBA announced that all games would be suspended until further notice. An employee in Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office becomes the first publicly known case of a congressional staffer testing positive for coronavirus and Trump suspended most travel to Europe.