Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Psaki is an outside adviser to Demand Justice, a progressive group pushing for court reform. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion articles at CNN.
When the announcement came from the White House on Monday morning that there would be no briefing, there was a sigh of relief.
And not just from weary fact-checkers and health care professionals, but from members of President Donald Trump’s own political party who have been forced to at worst defend and at best explain his failure to prepare for, manage and communicate on the worst public health crisis in a century.
But there was no way President Trump was going to miss his opportunity to communicate his own alternative reality of how well he has handled and managed the response to coronavirus. He loves the spotlight. Even when it is under the worst possible circumstances. He can’t seem to help himself. How else would he blame everyone else?
Instead of a repeat of the briefing room press conferences that have provided hours of head-scratching and at times shocking claims by President Trump, Monday’s resurrected event was moved to the Rose Garden, which in the old days of more normal presidents was saved for big announcements and state visits.
The briefing, which featured draped flags and well-produced slides about a testing plan without a timeline for implementation, didn’t make up for the fact that the United States has surpassed 50,000 deaths from coronavirus. Nor for a White House message so confusing that some states like Texas are on the path to reopening while others are looking at weeks if not months of shelter in place. Trump may have come across as a little less unhinged mainly because he didn’t suggest anyone ingest disinfectant to cure coronavirus.
But one thing is consistent. Trump saying he is not at fault and the buck does not stop with him.
When asked about the concern that there had been an increase in calls to poison control centers about ingestion of disinfectant, his response was to pretend he had no idea what the reporter was talking about.
“I can’t imagine why.”
Really, because all of those people who you probably accurately claim would still vote for you even if you shot someone – they were Googling Lysol when you said that last Thursday. At least it made the disinfectant hard to buy right now.
Both Clorox and Lysol put out statements following the Trump press conference last Thursday to make clear no one should be drinking or injecting their products.
When asked about economic projections, with some economists projecting we are heading for the next Great Depression, the immediate response of the President of the United States: “Nobody is blaming anyone here.”
But he clearly made time in his busy day to read the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s memo urging GOP candidates to attack China and claim the Chinese Communist Party caused the pandemic. Nobody is to blame except China.
Trump’s loyal buddy Vice President Mike Pence was also in on the alternative reality game. When asked about his claim on March 9 that there would be 4 million tests by the end of the week, Pence suggested he only meant tests would exist – not that they would be completed. The buck doesn’t stop here, either.
If President Trump and the White House really cared about communicating accurate and reliable information about coronavirus they would leave the briefing to health officials. That’s not the world we are living in. But the daily press conferences are meant for one purpose at this point – for President Trump to pass the blame for the mounting death toll and the coming economic crisis on to someone else.