President Donald Trump pulled the plug on his freewheeling daily coronavirus briefings when they turned into a political liability this spring, but he was reviving them Tuesday, looking to halt a campaign season erosion of support as new cases spike across the country.
The early evening briefing at the White House was rolling out as the next stage of the federal government’s response to the pandemic was being crafted on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and White House officials were opening negotiations on a trillion-dollar-or-more “phase four” rescue package.
President Trump announced he would revive the briefings on Monday, though White House officials said hours before he was to take the podium that the format and frequency hadn’t been finalized.
He was not planning on sharing the stage with public health experts including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx — at least in his first briefing — according to a White House official.
“You’ll have to tune in to see,” teased press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
“He’s the right person to give the information to the American people,” she said. “And, boy, does he get the information to a lot of the American people during his briefings, as noted by the ratings.”
Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, had not been informed about his role as of Tuesday morning. He told NPR he hadn’t been informed by the White House whether he would be in attendance for Trump’s briefing.
The doctor said he was glad Trump has begun to promote mask-wearing and expressed optimism the president would reinforce that message Tuesday.
“If we, during those conferences, come out and have consistent, clear, noncontradictory messages, I believe it will be very helpful in getting people on the track of knowing the direction that we need to go to get this pandemic under control,” he said.
Little more than three months out from Election Day, Trump is hoping that the podium spotlight will give him an edge against Democratic rival Joe Biden, though his advisers have stressed a need to adopt a more disciplined public agenda.
In addition to discussing medical developments, he also was expected to focus on his advocacy for schools to re-open for in-person education, following his threat to try to withhold federal funds from those who stick to remote education. And he was sure to predict a golden economic recovery on the way and go after Biden, Democratic-led cities and aggressive protesters
There was no shortage of advice on how Trump should comport himself.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an occasional informal Trump adviser, said the president should wear a mask to the briefing.
“That’s what’s going to convince people that he’s serious about this,” Gingrich said in an interview on Fox, Trump’s favored morning program.
Trump did tweet a photo of himself in a face mask Monday, calling it an act of patriotism, after months of resistance to being publicly seen in the coverings.
But McEnany suggested Trump would not wear a mask in the briefing room, saying that he is the “most tested man in America” for the virus — sometimes tested more than once a day.
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to offer a preview of potential messages for the briefing, claiming “tremendous progress” on vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. He said that “by comparison to most other countries, who are suffering greatly, we are doing very well — and we have done things that few other countries could have done!”
In fact, the U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths from the virus — and ranks near the top on a per-capita basis as well.
On Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting chief of staff Mark Meadows were to meet privately Tuesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on the new aid package, a day after Trump convened GOP leaders at the White House.
Democrats are pressing for the next bill to include funding for election protections, while some Republicans have broken with the White House in seeking additional federal funding for testing and contact-tracing. Meanwhile, Trump has found few allies in his push for a payroll tax cut in the legislation.
Trump’s daily turns in the White House briefing room largely ended in late April.
Scrapping the briefings was welcomed by aides who believed they were dragging down the president’s poll numbers, particularly with older voters. However, with his trademark rallies largely on hold because of the coronavirus, the view in Trump’s circle is that he needs an alternate means to reach voters.