WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump drew widespread criticism when he said at his first rally since the start of coronavirus lockdowns that he wanted testing for the virus to be slowed down, but White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday that was “tongue in cheek.”
Trump reiterated his argument at his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally on Saturday night that increased coronavirus testing leads to a higher number of cases identified in the United States, calling testing a “double-edged sword.”
“Here’s the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.'”
Navarro told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning that Trump’s comments were made in “a light moment.”
“You know, it was tongue in cheek. Come on, now. That was tongue in cheek, please,” Navarro said.
‘It makes us look bad’:Trump describes coronavirus testing as ‘overrated’ and calls for less if virus reemerges
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said that Trump’s call to slow down testing was in “frustration” over media coverage he said focuses on increased cases rather than the advanced testing in a “Face the Nation” interview Sunday.
The United States has surpassed 2 million positive cases of the coronavirus, with about 120,000 deaths, and several states have seen an increase in cases. While Trump has attributed the increase in cases on ramped-up testing, experts have also pointed to efforts to reopen states after stay-at-home orders were in place.
Saturday was not the first time Trump has suggested more widespread testing makes the country look bad due to a higher numbers of cases, though it is deemed as a critical tool in tracking and containing the virus by health experts. He called testing “overrated” in a Wall Street Journal interview last week. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany justified Trump’s logic last week as “logical.”
“When you do more testing, you identify more cases,” she said. “Countries that don’t do as much testing don’t identify the same number of cases.”
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Trump’s comment at the rally drew reaction from Democratic lawmakers who criticized his administration’s response to the coronavirus, highlighting a lack of access to testing as the pandemic spread across the country.
“This virus has killed nearly 120,000 Americans and cost tens of millions their jobs, in large part because this president could not and would not mobilize testing as quickly as we needed it,” former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign said in a statement. “To hear him say tonight that he has ordered testing slowed — a transparent attempt to make the numbers look better — is appalling.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reacted to Navarro’s assertion that Trump’s comment were not serious in a CNN interview on Sunday, calling it inappropriate either way.
“This is no time to joke. Even if it were a joke, which it was not, it was an inappropriate joke. Do you think the 120,000 families out there who are missing their loved ones thought it was funny?” Bottoms said.