Trump denies he joked about wanting to slow COVID-19 testing: 'I don't kid'

A day after the White House said President Trump was joking about ordering a slowdown in coronavirus testing to avoid an embarrassing increase in the number of cases, Trump responded to a question about the incident by saying, “I don’t kid.”

Trump made the eye-opening claim at his rally in Tulsa Saturday night. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people. You’re going to find more cases!” he told the crowd. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’”

The president had expressed frustration over the rise in cases, attributing it to more widespread testing. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, far more than in any other country.

President Trump at a rally in Tulsa, Okla.
President Trump at a rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday. (Go Nakamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Health experts say increased testing does not explain the rise, noting that in such states as Florida, Texas and Arizona, which are driving the spike in cases, the rate of tests that come back positive is increasing, indicating an actual spread of infection.

The president was immediately criticized for suggesting the country slow down its testing for the coronavirus, which has killed more than 120,000 Americans.

Administration officials pushed back, claiming Trump was joking. White House adviser Peter Navarro said the president’s remarks were “tongue in cheek.” Vice President Mike Pence, the head of Trump’s coronavirus task force, told U.S. governors on Monday that the president’s comments were made “in passing.”

“It was a comment that he made in jest,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Monday afternoon. “Whether it’s ‘in jest,’ ‘in passing’ or ‘tongue in cheek’ — those are all synonymous.”

But when asked about the comment by reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Arizona Tuesday morning, Trump responded, “I don’t kid.”

He repeated his claim that more testing results in more cases of the virus.

“Let me make it clear,” the president told reporters. “We have got the greatest testing program anywhere in the world. We test better than anybody in the world. Our tests are the best in the world, and we have the most of them. By having more tests, we find more cases. We did 25-plus, 25 million tests. Think of that: 25 million. If you look at other countries, they did 1 million, 2 million, 3 million. Big countries. We did 25 million, way more, by double, triple, quadruple any other country. Therefore we test, we’re going to have more cases. By having more cases, it sounds bad.”

President Trump speaks to the press before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House
President Trump speaks to the press before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday. (Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

While the U.S. has conducted the most total coronavirus tests, it has not conducted the most per capita. (According to Oxford University researchers, Bahrain leads the world in COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people, followed by Luxembourg, Iceland and Denmark. The U.S. is a distant 12th.)

As he did at the rally, Trump called testing a “double-edged sword.”

“In one way, it tells you you have cases. In another way, you find out where the cases are, you do a good job,” he said. “We are doing a great job. We have never been credited for it.”

Trump eventually departed for Arizona, but he wasn’t done airing grievances. Shortly after takeoff, he complained about the media’s coverage of his coronavirus response.

“We did a great job on CoronaVirus, including the very early ban on China, Ventilator production, and Testing, which is by far the most, and best, in the World. We saved millions of U.S. lives.! Yet the Fake News refuses to acknowledge this in a positive way,” he tweeted. “But they do give Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is with us in all ways, a very high 72% Approval Rating. So, if he is in charge along with V.P. etc., and with us doing all of these really good things, why doesn’t the Lamestream Media treat us as they should? Answer: Because they are Fake News!”

Fauci testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday about the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis along with Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services; Stephen Hahn, Food and Drug Administration commissioner; and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"To my knowledge none of us have been told to slow down,” Fauci told Congress. “That is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing. So it's the opposite, we will be doing more testing, not less."


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