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Trump uses coronavirus briefing to air his grievances

"Everything we did was right," the president told reporters after playing a campaign-style video defending the White House's response to the pandemic.
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President Donald Trump's grievances with the media and his political opponents took center stage Monday during the daily White House coronavirus briefing after a weekend of tough reporting on his administration's handling of the pandemic.

"Everything we did was right," Trump told reporters after playing a campaign-style video defending the White House's response to the crisis.

"We were way ahead of schedule," he said, pushing back on a New York Times report detailing delays. "Remember this, because the story was a fake. Everything we did I was criticized because I was too early. If I waited longer, if I went way earlier, three months earlier, I would've been criticized. ...

"I saved tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of lives," he said.

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Within the briefing's first few minutes, the president called on Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, who reframed comments he made in an interview that aired Sunday in which he suggested there was administration "pushback" to implementing necessary public health policies earlier during the pandemic.

"There wasn't anyone saying, 'No you shouldn't do this,'" Fauci said, calling his earlier comments a "poor choice of words."

"The first and only time that I went in and said we should do mitigation strongly, the response was 'yes, we'll do it,'" he added.

Fauci had said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that earlier steps to limit public interaction could have saved lives.

"Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different," Fauci said in the interview. "But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down."

Fauci's remarks come a day after Trump retweeted a call for him to be fired, although the White House earlier Monday pushed back on the suggestion that the president had considered seeking his removal.

With the president standing nearby, Fauci was asked whether he had been forced to clarify his remarks.

"Everything I do is done voluntarily," Fauci responded. "Please don't even imply that."

The president also appeared to state incorrectly that he, rather than governors and local officials, had the authority to order states and cities to end public health measures that have closed businesses and curtailed other activity.

In fact, under the Constitution, powers not specifically given to the federal government, including police power, are reserved for the states.

The lack of any new information about the coronavirus task force's response during first half-hour of the briefing, which was focused almost entirely on the president's complaints about tough news coverage and critical remarks by political opponents, prompted networks such as CNN and MSNBC to cut off live coverage during the campaign-style video the White House played.

Trump's complaints echoed his response over the weekend on social media slamming reporters, Democrats and other perceived foes over complaints that he was being unfairly criticized.

The president clashed with reporters several times during the freewheeling briefing. When pressed by a CBS reporter to detail what the administration had done to prepare hospitals and ramp up testing between the time the president curtailed travel from China and the first reported coronavirus case in the U.S., the president lashed out.

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Trump refused to answer or acknowledge the reporter's question, instead calling her "disgraceful" and "fake" several times.

"Look, you know you're a fake, your whole network — the way you cover it — is fake," Trump responded.

The president also argued with reporters over his claim that he had authority to end public health orders that were restricting economic activity, not governors or local officials.

"When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's got to be. It's total," Trump said. "And the governors know that."

When pushed repeatedly by a CNN reporter on the source for his claim that he had "total authority," he refused to answer her question.

"Enough," he said before turning to another reporter.