WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday he will resume conducting regular coronavirus briefings as the White House struggles to land on a message and a role for him amid a surge in cases across the country.
Trump told reporters during a meeting with congressional leaders that he was likely to begin conducting briefings again, possibly as soon as Tuesday. White House officials have been split over what public role the president should have in responding to the record-breaking numbers of new coronavirus cases, with some advisers urging him to stay on the sidelines while others have warned he does so at his own political peril.
“We had very successful briefings, I was doing them, and we had a lot of people watching — record numbers watching in the history of cable television,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday of the briefings in March and April. “I think what we’re going to do is, I’ll get involved and we’ll start doing briefings, whether it’s this afternoon or tomorrow, probably tomorrow, and I’ll do briefings.”
Trump curtailed his regular coronavirus briefings in April. Those sessions had lasted beyond two hours in some cases and diverged into a broad range of issues. Advisers told him at the time the exposure was having a negative impact on his poll numbers.
The briefings, said a senior administration official, are part of a boarder strategy this week to get Trump out in front on a number of issues, including the expected signing of executive orders on immigration and health care.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has been arguing Trump should be more visible on the issue, saying his approval numbers have fallen since he curtailed the daily coronavirus briefings. Conway has said she wasn’t advocating for a return of the extended daily press conferences Trump held in the spring, but did think he should be speaking out more on the issue and touting the administration’s response.
Other White House aides have pushed to keep Trump distant from the response, hoping that by keeping him out of the day-to-day public narrative, the administration can "depoliticize" the pandemic, a senior administration official said this month. Trump’s comments on everything from masks to taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine have prompted controversy, resulting in public battles with Democrats and public health experts.
Internal polling, however, showed the administration’s response on the pandemic was not breaking through, said a senior administration official.
“There’s a sense that he’s been leading quietly on it but he needs to be leading more publicly on it," said the official.
Trump appears to have landed on the strategy of taking control of the messaging.
"I think it’s a great way to get information out to the public as to where we are with the vaccines, with the therapeutics, and generally speaking where we are. And so I think we’ll start that probably starting tomorrow," Trump said. "I’ll do it at 5 o’clock like we were doing. We had a good slot and a lot of people were watching and that’s a good thing."