WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump insisted on Tuesday that he was serious when he revealed that he had directed his administration to slow coronavirus testing in the United States — shattering the defenses of senior White House aides who argued Trump’s remarks were made in jest.
“I don’t kid. Let me just tell you. Let me make it clear,” Trump told reporters, when pressed on whether his comments at a campaign event Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., were intended as a joke.
“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,” he continued.
Administration officials as high-ranking as Vice President Mike Pence have scrambled in recent days to clean up Trump’s statements last Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., where he reprised his dubious logic regarding testing rates before an arena of supporters.
“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people,” Trump said during the rally. “You’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro suggested Sunday the president never issued such an explicit directive, telling CNN Trump’s remarks were “tongue in cheek.”
“It was a comment that he made in jest,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany added at a news briefing Monday, saying: “Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact.”
Even Pence sought to help manage the political fallout, telling governors in a conference call Monday that Trump’s testing comments were merely a “passing observation,” according to a CBS News report.
But in an interview Monday, Trump did not deny making the ask of his administration to curtail coronavirus testing, instead contending that “if we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases.”