What were supposed to be as-needed updates on the progress of the coronavirus response team have turned into a daily excuse for Donald Trump to come on television, provide a few moments of news that is often more than a bit iffy, and then stand back for a tongue bath from Mike Pence, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and task force coordinator Deborah Birx. Without the prolonged, repeated, then also repeated pronouncements beginning with “thanks to the president’s bold action …” the entire affair would wrap in 30 seconds.
But in addition to sopping up the praise, each of these events allows Trump plenty of time for his other leisure activities: attacking the press and making s#it up. On this particular occasion, Trump didn’t just tell a reporter simply asking about Americans being frightened that he was a “terrible reporter” asking a “nasty question.” He also found time to argue with Dr. Anthony Fauci over a “miracle drug” for COVID-19.
During Thursday’s praise session, Trump dropped in on the FDA to explain how excited he was about the COVID-curing powers of the malaria drug chloroquine. Trump made it known the drug would be available “immediately” and that he was buying many, many doses for Americans.
Naturally, this generated some questions on Friday, including one directed at the National Institute of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, about whether chloroquine could really act as a cure, or even as a “prophylactic” to prevent COVID-19 from taking hold in the first place.
In reply, Fauci made it clear he was very skeptical about the claims being made. “The answer is no,” said Fauci. He explained that all of the so-called proof of chloroquine’s effectiveness against the virus was “anecdotal evidence” and that while the government was going to make the drug available for further testing, those tests needed to be done in a way that provided genuine information on whether the drug was either safe or effective when used in treating COVID-19.
But no sooner had Fauci surrendered the podium than Trump stepped up to declare himself a “fan” of chloroquine. “I have seen things that are impressive. We’ll see.”
Then, when another reporter indicated that chloroquine had been effective against SARS, Fauci hurriedly grabbed back the microphone to explain that this idea also lacked any empirical evidence. After all, just because someone took chloroquine and got better, that doesn’t mean they got better because they took the malaria drug. Most people recover from SARS without the need for a miracle. Fauci again tried to bring the session back to something approaching genuine medical evidence, explaining that the drug had to be tested against the “standard of care” to see if it provided benefit.
None of this dented Trump’s enthusiasm. As soon as he was behind the podium again, he talked not only to the “millions of units” he had already ordered, and the deal he had worked out with Bayer, “a great company,” but repeated that he was “very positive” about chloroquine and that it was “a game-changer.” Trump followed this up by insisting not only that he “felt good” about the drug but that … “I am a smart guy.”
Even though a reporter tried to back away from the question by giving Trump an easy out, Trump insisted on not just stepping on every word of Fauci’s careful language, but turning the hype dial to 11.
Reporter: “Dr. Fauci said there is no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree …”
Trump: “Well … I think we only disagree a little bit. Uh … Maybe, and maybe not.”