President Donald Trump sought to mark a win Monday on coronavirus testing by highlighting $11 billion allocated to states during a Rose Garden briefing – but he misspoke on the dollar amount and was referencing money already passed by Congress.
He also faced extensive questioning about why business leaders should feel comfortable to move to reopen when they don’t have access to the volume of testing the White House has as it dealt with the fallout from two staffers testing positive for coronavirus last week.
More than 9 million coronavirus tests have been conducted nationwide as of Monday, according to the White House. But at various points in the ongoing crisis, states have reported insufficient laboratory capacity leading to long wait times for results, and shortages of required testing materials such as swabs and reagents.
And the US is still falling short in coronavirus testing in some areas of the country, with some of those shortages continuing in states like Michigan.
During the Rose Garden event, the President said that in order to help expand testing capabilities, his administration will be sending $1 billion – but he meant $11 billion – to American states, territories and tribes. That money had been previously approved by Congress as part of coronavirus relief.
The multi-billion dollar assistance also comes after Trump and the administration tried to largely place the responsibility of testing to states. At the time, the White House said the federal government should act as the “supplier of last resort” for the tests.
The President and his administration have been quick to defend the decision to segue into phase one of recommending reopening states in an effort to restart the economy. And Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, claimed that the US currently has enough testing capacity to complete phase one.
When asked when Americans across the country will be able to get tested every day as they go back to work, Trump replied, “Very soon,” but offered no details. Later, pressed as to when Americans would have access to tests every day like White House staffers do, Trump deflected.
“You know what? If we didn’t get the tests, if we did no tests in the White House you’d be complaining … we can’t win,” he said.
Even the White House – where staff and guests interacting with Vice President Mike Pence and President are now tested daily – isn’t impervious to the coronavirus.
Late last week, Pence’s press secretary tested positive for the virus. Several top administration officials around her have self-isolated as a result. One of the President’s personal valets tested positive earlier in the week.
The President was asked several times Monday afternoon about how American workers can expect to feel assured that they can go back to work safely when they don’t have nearly the same coronavirus testing access as the White House.
He suggested that the White House was under unique circumstances.
“I think we have a lot of people in the White House … it’s also tremendous numbers of people coming in,” Trump said, adding, “I felt no vulnerability whatsoever.”
The President also said he thinks the White House is “really doing a very good job in watching it, and I think it’s very well contained.”
Trump said he was leaving governors to decide if Americans should be told to return to work before they have assurance of testing access. “And if we see something wrong we’ll call them out and we’ll stop it,” he added.
The President was asked about one of his Mother’s Day tweets where he seemingly accused former President Barack Obama of some kind of conspiracy against his administration.
“Obamagate. It’s been going on for a long time,” he claimed, without offering specifics or evidence. “It’s been going on from before I even got elected, and it’s a disgrace that it happened.”
Pressed again on what crime he was accusing Obama of committing, Trump said: “You know what the crime is. The crime is obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”
The President abruptly cut off the Rose Garden news conference after a sharp exchange with two female reporters – CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins.
CNN’s Jason Hoffman, Nikki Carvajal and Daniel Dale contributed to this report.