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Yesterday’s White House briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, during which President Trump falsely claimed that the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths were declining in the United States and exaggerated the ease with which Americans can get tested for the virus, ended abruptly and chaotically when Trump was challenged by two female reporters.
Yes, female reporters. Again.
As has become increasingly evident over the past two months, a newer generation of White House reporters—most of them women, some who are women of color—have been asking forceful, pointed questions that have sparked unusually flustered, and even hostile, reactions from the president.
At yesterday’s briefing, some reporters, both male and female, questioned the president’s claim that widespread testing was now available in the U.S. and wondered aloud about how any workplace could be considered safe if coronavirus had infiltrated the White House. (It was recently confirmed that Katie Miller, the press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence and the wife of top White House aide Stephen Miller, had tested positive.)
But it took a decidedly more confrontational turn when Weijia Jiang, a White House correspondent for CBS News, asked the president why he repeatedly (and inaccurately) claimed that the U.S. was “far better than any other country in the world” when it came to testing.
“Why does that matter?” she asked Trump. “Why is this a global competition to you if, every day, Americans are still losing their lives and we are still seeing more cases?”
Trump, looking visibly angry, responded, “Maybe that’s a question you should ask China,” Trump told Jiang. “Don’t ask me. Ask China that question, okay?”
There was a long pause, before Jiang, who came to the U.S. from China when she was two years old and who seemed visibly taken aback by Trump’s response, pulled her mask partially down so that she could be heard more clearly and said to the president: “Sir, why are you saying that to me specifically?”
“I’m telling you,” Trump replied. “I’m not saying it specifically to anybody. I’m saying it to anybody that asks a nasty question.”
“That’s not a nasty question,” Jiang said. “Why does it matter?”
Trump then looked around the Rose Garden, seeking out another reporter to call on, as Jiang’s microphone appeared to be cut off.
Kaitlan Collins, whom Trump had earlier acknowledged, but who had stepped away from the microphone to let Jiang ask her follow-up question, then began to address the president by saying, “I have two questions,” before he cut her off.
“No, it’s okay,” Trump replied.
“But you pointed to me,” Collins said. “I have two questions, Mr. President. You called on me.”
“I did,” Trump said. “And you didn’t respond, and now I’m calling on the young lady in the back.”
“I just wanted to let my colleague finish,” Collins explained. “But can I ask you a question?”
Trump then ended the press conference.
“Ladies and gentlemen, appreciate it, thank you very much,” he said before turning and walking back into the White House.
On CNN, anchor Wolf Blitzer seemed shocked by the exchange he had just witnessed. “A very ugly, ugly ending to that one-hour appearance by the president in the Rose Garden,” Blitzer said, adding, as he turned to his CNN colleague Gloria Borger, “What he did to that Asian-American reporter was really nasty.”
The reaction, at least among Democrats, was swift and harshly critical. Bernie Sanders tweeted a video of the exchange between the president and Jiang, commenting, “Pretty pathetic. Mr. Trump is a coward who tears down others to make himself feel powerful.” And David Axelrod, a former Obama official and now a commentator on CNN, tweeted, “What a finish. He dismisses a question from @weijia, a Chinese-American reporter, about why he boasts about our testing versus others by telling her to ask China. And when @kaitlancollins of @CNN approached the mic to ask her questions, the @POTUS fled.”
The next morning on MSNBC, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) called the president “xenophobic” and said, “He can’t handle women, particularly strong women.”
The dust-up with Jiang and Collins certainly followed a pattern ever since the president has been holding regular, sometimes daily, coronavirus briefings at the White House. A few weeks ago, he bristled at a question asked by Yamiche Alcindor, the PBS Newshour White House correspondent, telling her, “Be nice, don’t be threatening,” before a White House aide came over and took the mic out of her hands. More recently, he called the CBS reporter Paula Reid “disgraceful” and “a fake” when she challenged him on why he didn’t do more to act on coronavirus in the months of January and February, before it began to spread widely around the U.S.
Jiang, Reid, Collins, and Alcindor, along with Kristin Fisher of Fox News and Francesca Chambers of McClatchy, were recently singled out by CNN’s Brian Stelter, the host of Reliable Sources, as a “new generation of correspondents [who are] not taking President Trump’s not-my-fault routine for an answer.” Said Stelter, “They’re pressing, following up and fact-checking in real time.” Adding, “They’re showing that youth can be an asset—along with persistence.”
And the fact that they are all women seems to be something that Trump finds particularly infuriating, as Olivia Nuzzi, the Washington correspondent for New York magazine, tweeted yesterday: “The President’s unprofessionalism is always revealed most clearly when he is interacting with female reporters.”
Two weeks ago, at another White House briefing, Nuzzi asked the president, “If an American president loses more Americans over the course of six weeks than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, does he deserve to be reelected?” Nuzzi asked.
For a little over a minute, Trump danced around the question, refusing to answer it directly, and then, as he did Monday, abruptly ended the briefing and walked quickly back into the safe refuge of his home.
Originally Appeared on Vogue