President Donald Trump on Monday pushed his view that there is enough testing for states to reopen, even as the White House is instituting increased testing and considering other new precautions over fears the novel coronavirus has invaded the cramped offices of the White House West Wing.
At an afternoon news conference in the White House Rose Garden complete with a large banner saying, “America leads the world in testing,” Trump claimed all Americans returning to work can get tested daily “very soon,” although some governors disagree.
Earlier, ABC News’ Katherine Faulders and John Santucci reported a new White House policy was distributed to West Wing staff Monday afternoon directing them to wear masks at all times while working in the West Wing, according to sources familiar with the matter. The guidance comes after two White House staffers tested positive for coronavirus last week.
Additional measures were being considered this week at the White House following positive tests from one of the president’s valets and the vice president’s press secretary for coronavirus. Meanwhile, critics of the administration question when widespread testing, contact tracing and protective equipment will become available to all everyday Americans returning to work, as they become integrated at the White House.
“If we did very little testing, [America] wouldn’t have the most cases,” Trump said last Wednesday. “So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”
On Capitol Hill, task force witnesses scheduled to testify before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday regarding the opening of the economy — including Drs. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and coronavirus testing coordinator Adm. Brett Giroir — will instead appear by videoconference in the historic hearing.
Fauci, Hahn and Redfield are in some form of quarantine this week following contact with at least one White House staffer who tested positive. Even the committee’s chair, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will preside over the hearing from his home state “out of an abundance of caution,” after one of his staff members, too, tested positive for the contagious pathogen.
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Here are Monday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Trump claims Americans returning to work can be tested daily ‘very soon’
As the contagious coronavirus appears to have invaded the White House West Wing, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked President Trump at a Rose Garden news conference when everyday Americans will be able to get tested daily as they return to work just as White House staffers now can.
“I mean, really very soon. It’s an interesting question because, normally, you would have said that you are not tested and you would have been, you know, knocking us for not getting tested. So if we get tested, it’s a problem, and if we don’t get tested, it’s a problem,” the president said.
When pressed, Trump told Karl governors are responsible for making the decisions best for their states.
“We’re leaving that up to the governors as you know, and if we see something wrong, we’ll call them out and we’ll stop it,” Trump said. “Some are being not aggressive enough in my opinion, and some are being a little bit aggressive.”
When ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps pressed the president about the “double standard” under which members of his own staff can get tested frequently when ordinary Americans cannot, Trump suggested members of the press would complain if the White House had no tests, saying, “you can’t win.”
“You know what? If we didn’t get the tests, if we did no tests in the White House, you’d be complaining, ‘Why aren’t you getting tests for the White House?’ See, we can’t win them back. Because if we didn’t get the tests, you’d be up — I understand you very well, better than you understand yourself,” he said.
“And frankly, if we didn’t get tests done, you would be up, complaining about the fact that we didn’t have the tests done,” Trump continued. “Now that we are doing so well on tests and so quick and so fast, five minutes, et cetera, and so accurate, you are complaining that we’re getting too many tests. So, you can’t win.”
When Phelps asked the president to clarify or offer figures on when exactly everyone who needs a test can get one, as the president has claimed since a visit on March 6 to the CDC, Trump said, “it’s a true statement already.”
Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s point person on testing, tried to clarify and qualify Trump’s claim about who could get tested.
“Everybody who needs a test can get a test,” Giroir said. “If you’re symptomatic with a respiratory illness, that’s an indication for a test and you can get a test.”
In a moment that echoed a previous controversial claim, Trump added if people want a test, they can get one.
“If people want to get tested, they get tested, but for the most part they shouldn’t want to get tested,” Trump said. “There is no reason. They feel good. They don’t have sniffles. They don’t have sore throats. They don’t have any problem.”
Meanwhile, several governors and local health officials have continued to report problems with the testing supply chain such as access to swabs and antigens.
Vice President Mike Pence, though present in Washington, was notably not in attendance at the briefing.
The president also said that while governors and the public alike have learned a lot about the virus over the last couple months, he claimed there are two sides of the argument on wearing face masks — a recommendation Trump has resisted following himself.
“Just about everybody has a face mask on. They’ve learned about face masks the good and the bad. By the way, it’s not a one-sided thing, believe it or not, but our country has learned, our country has been incredible,” Trump said, without offering details.
Later, when asked why the White House had waited so long to implement mask-usage in the West Wing, one month after the CDC initially offered the guidance, Trump said it’s because most people don’t get that close to him — but he claimed he was the one to order the change.
In his rather optimistic opening remarks, the president said, “We have met the moment, and we have prevailed.”
But when questioned later on if he was declaring “mission accomplished,” Trump said he was referring only to testing.
“We have prevailed on testing is what I am referring to. That was with regard to testing,” the president said. “When you have potentially millions of people throughout the world that are dying, that’s not prevailing.”
White House directs West Wing staff to wear masks at all times in the building
ABC News has confirmed a new White House policy was distributed to presidential staffers Monday directing them to wear masks at all times while working in the West Wing, according to sources familiar with the matter and an email sent by the White House Management Office this afternoon.
In the email, staff are told they must wear a mask upon entry, keep social distance from colleagues whenever possible, and that they can only not wear a mask when they are seated at their own desk. Staff have also been told, according to sources, that the White House will provide a mask to anyone who needs it.
“The CDC continues to encourage the use of facial coverings when social distancing is not an option. As an additional layer of protection, we are requiring everyone who enters the West Wing to wear a mask or facial covering,” the letter said. “Unless you absolutely need to conduct in-person business in the West Wing, we respectfully ask you to avoid unnecessary visits.”
ABC News’ Katherine Faudlers and John Santucci
First lady Melania Trump’s staff is working from home
All of first lady Melania Trump’s East Wing staff are working from home, according to her chief of staff and spokesperson Stephanie Grisham.
“We are all teleworking right now,” Grisham, who until recently served as White House press secretary and communications director, said in an interview with Fox News.
“So everybody’s working from home. And If I go in there for any meetings, I’m tested every single day. If we meet with her, we sit six feet apart. If you haven’t been tested, you wear a mask. Even when we’ve done the videos, it’s a very, very small footprint in terms of staff and video crew. That’s very important to her.”
The first lady has also reduced the number of staff in the White House residence, who “all wear masks,” Grisham said.
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
Pence calls governors from different location than usual, alone, after staffer tests positive
Vice President Mike Pence told governors in a video teleconference call Monday that he was taking the call alone and physically separate from White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who sat in the White House’s Situation Room, according to an audio recording of the call obtained by ABC News.
CNN spotted Pence entering the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, earlier this morning.
“If you’re looking on from a video, you will see that we’re in a slightly different circumstance at the White House today,” Pence told the governors. “Dr. Birx is in a Situation Room with some staff. I am in a separate room on my own.”
“Many of you heard that we had a couple of staff members that tested positive,” he continued. “And so, as all of you are aware, we’re taking the appropriate countermeasures to protect the president’s health as well as the health of all of those that are serving [inaud]. Work goes on.”
GOP Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said that he wished the White House staff well, and Pence said he was “pleased to report both of the staffers that tested positive are both doing well.”
“And I’m also happy to report that we continue to test negative all around,” Pence continued. “But just like you’re doing there and all the governors… we’re taking every precaution, so that we can continue to support the president’s health as well as make sure he’s got the full team around him.”
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
Joint Chiefs member tests negative after initial positive test at White House
A routine White House screening test for novel coronavirus led to a positive test result for Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, ahead of President Trump’s meeting at the White House on Saturday evening with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior defense officials.
That positive result presumably did not allow Lengyel to attend the meeting, but he later went to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland to receive another test that later proved negative for the virus, a U.S. official said.
With the conflicting result Lengyel underwent a third test on Monday that also proved negative, the National Guard said in a statement.
“Thank you to all who have expressed concern for my health and safety,” said Lengyel. “I am happy to continue to focus on the efforts of the 46,000 Guardsmen and women who are battling this pandemic in the 50 states, three territories and District of Columbia.”
Another member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also did not attend Saturday night’s meeting as a precaution because of possible exposure to the virus.
Adm. Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, learned last week that he had been exposed to a family member who had tested positive for the virus. Gilday did not attend the White House meeting while he awaited the results of his own test that later came back negative.
Out of an abundance of caution Gilday has decided to self-quarantine for the next week.
— ABC News’ Luis Martinez
Schumer tells Fauci to ‘let it rip’ during Tuesday hearing testimony
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had one piece of advice for Dr. Anthony Fauci in advance of his hearing before a Senate committee Tuesday : “Let it rip”
“This will be one of the first opportunities for Dr. Fauci to tell the American people the unvarnished truth without the president lurking over his shoulder,” Schumer said. “Dr. Fauci, let it rip.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor like Schumer, also emphasized the work that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Banking committees will be doing this week related to COVID-19.
The HELP Committee will host Fauci and other administration officials Tuesday for a hearing on reopening the country, with three of four witnesses and the committee’s chair joining remotely. He said the Senate Banking Committee will host representatives from the Federal Reserve and FDIC on financial regulation.
“Obviously that is an essential topic as the government continues to push out billions and billions of dollars in emergency liquidity following the CARES act,” McConnell said.
“It is crucial that as we continue to fight the pandemic itself we ensure it is not followed up by a job killing epidemic of frivolous lawsuits,” McConnell added. “This would be about the worst time in living memory to let trial lawyers line their pockets at the expense of the rest of the country.”
Schumer used the opportunity to continue to blame McConnell for failing to bring coronavirus legislation to the floor or to hold enough significant oversight hearings related to the virus.
“We are living in the alternative reality of the Republican Leader McConnell’s making,” Schumer said, adding that McConnell’s “wait and see” approach on a fourth stimulus package makes no sense if hearings aren’t being conducted.
ABC News’ Allie Pecorin
Top WH trade adviser: Talk of the bad economy sounds like a ‘pity party’
The White House’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro said this morning that Sunday show talk of historically low economic numbers amid the coronavirus pandemic was “pity party stuff.”
“It was a pity party,” Navarro told “Fox and Friends” Monday. “This is not the Great Depression. Anybody who thinks this is the Great Depression doesn’t understand history or economics.”
He argued the current disruption was temporary and did not equate to the decade-long impact of the Great Depression.
“This Great Depression pity party stuff I saw yesterday, this ain’t that,” he said.
Navarro was also asked about a Washington Post article on the federal government in January turning down a Texas company’s offer to manufacture N-95 masks. He said the firm was “very difficult to work and communicate with” and that “they were having their own problems which were glorified in the Washington Post article.”
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
From earlier today:
White House looks at potential new procedures after at least two West Wing staffers test positive
Additional measures are being considered for the West Wing after two aides on the White House campus tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Sources tell ABC News there will be more aides wearing masks in recent weeks, though it will not be required. Secret Service agents close to the president and in the vicinity of the Oval Office will also begin wearing masks.
One measure under consideration is that aides must maintain a six-foot social distance during meetings including ones with the president, one senior level source told ABC News.
There is a list of over a dozen people who work in the west wing who will be tested daily before reporting to work, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, multiple sources say.
“We are going to continue to conduct business but not run the risk of being potentially infected by a common source,” a personal familiar with the discussions of potential new procedures said.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Friday the White House “is probably the safest place you can come to,” despite confusion internally about what the White House was actually doing to keep the building and employees safe, given many do not follow social distancing measures.
Over the weekend, Meadows worked with its medical and security units to put additional protocols in place, sources say.
“Any meetings the president goes to people will maintain maximum social distancing measures,” one administration official said.
There were discussions also about separating the president and vice president, but at this point multiple officials say that is unlikely and that the two will still attend meetings together.
Pence did not quarantine over the weekend, although he was not in attendance for a Saturday meeting at the White House.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders and John Santucci
Trump inaccurately says COVID-19 ‘numbers’ are ‘going down almost everywhere’ as death toll nears 80K
President Trump said inaccurately in a tweet this morning that “coronavirus numbers are … going down almost everywhere.”
An ABC News analysis, based on New York Times data, found that, as of Sunday, in a majority of U.S. states cases are either increasing or mostly staying the same.
As Trump tweets “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better,” the number of total deaths domestically is nearing 80,000.
The University of Washington’s IHME model, a key forecasting tool used by the White House, is predicting more than 137,000 deaths from COVID-19 by early August, as of Monday morning.
The president continues his reopening push as more states lift restrictions, although a new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows most Americans resist reopening the country now, believing the risk to human life outweighs the economic toll.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson