The Washington Post published its latest in-depth investigation into the Trump administration’s uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday night. On Sunday morning, an interview with a leading medical expert on the White House task force reinforced it.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Deborah Birx offered very different comments compared with President Trump’s on the projected coronavirus death toll and the protesters who recently stormed the Michigan State Capitol.
Birx was asked about Trump’s projections in recent weeks that there would be between 50,000 and 60,000 deaths, which he later increased to 60,000 to 70,000. We are at over 66,000 deaths, with little sign in recent weeks of any significant downturn.
Birx told host Chris Wallace that “our projections have always been between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost, and that’s with full mitigation and us learning from each other of how to social distance.”
That contradicts what Trump said -- and even what he went on to say later in the day. The president hasn’t just offered a more optimistic tone on the death toll; on April 20, he suggested 50,000 to 60,000 deaths had actually replaced the previous 100,000-to-240,000 goal that he had said would constitute a successful response.
“I always say it: One is too many," Trump said. "But we’re going toward 50 or 60,000 people. That’s at the lower — as you know, the low number was supposed to be 100,000 people. We could end up at 50 to 60. Okay?”
That first lowered estimate was passed in a matter of days, and Trump’s later 60,000-to-70,000 estimate appears as though it won’t last past the early part of this week.
And later Sunday night, Trump again upped his projection -- but still left it short of the 100,000-to-240,000 Birx said has “always” been the White House’s projection.
“Look, we’re going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people,” Trump said in a Fox News town hall. He added later: “I used to say 65,000. And now I’m saying 80,000 or 90,000. And it goes up. And it goes up rapidly.”
Birx’s most significant comments on Sunday, though, came with regard to the protesters in Michigan. They stormed the State Capitol, some brandishing guns, to urge a reopening of the state.
Birx’s message was clear: It’s a horrible development.
“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me, personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very — or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” she said. “So we need to protect each other at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”
That’s a kind of cautioning and rebuking of the protesters that we simply haven’t seen from Trump.
The president, in fact, has tacitly encouraged protesters in states like Michigan, initially tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” when the protests began and offering similar sentiments for other states.
Since then, he has been given several opportunities to suggest that the protesters should back off, but he has declined and instead suggested that he sympathizes with them and their goals.
“The governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire,” Trump said Friday of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
On April 19, Trump expressly declined to give the protesters guidance and said he agreed with their cause.
“I don’t have any advice,” he said. “People feel that way. You’re allowed to protest. I mean, they — they feel that way. I watched a protest, and they were all six feet apart. I mean, it was a very orderly group of people.”
In fact, photos showed that the protesters at the time were not abiding by guidelines on social distancing or wearing masks — nor have protesters since then.
Trump added: “Some governors have gone too far. Some of the things that happened are maybe not so appropriate.”
He added the day before that some governors “have gotten carried away. They have absolutely gotten carried away.”
When pressed again on the protesters opposing and failing to practice social distancing, which he and the federal government have pushed, Trump again pointed to the governors.
“I mean, I notice there were a lot of protests out there,” he said. “And I just think that some of the governors have gotten carried away.”
Even Sunday night, after Birx’s comments, Trump again offered sympathy for the protesters without a trace of warning them about the consequences of gathering in public.
“All those people out there that are protesting, they’re -- they’re right,” Trump said. “They want to go back to work. We want to go back to work quickly, but safely. And that’s what’s happening.”
While Trump hasn’t been completely explicit about encouraging the protesters, by sympathizing with their cause, accusing certain governors of overreach and urging those governors to compromise with the protesters, it’s not difficult to see how that could feed the unrest.
In cautioning those protesters about putting their own loved ones’ lives at risk, Birx offered almost a diametrically opposed message — as has often been the case between Trump and his top health officials.
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