WASHINGTON – Under siege over his response to COVID-19 and protests against systemic racism and facing bad polls in his reelection bid against Joe Biden, President Donald Trump defended his performance in an interview broadcast Sunday – including his claims that the coronavirus will simply “disappear.”
“I’ll be right eventually,” Trump told Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” in the interview taped Friday. “You know, I said, ‘It’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again.”
Trump – as he did before his surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 – refused to say whether he would challenge the results of the election should he lose to Biden.
Claiming that “mail-in voting is going to rig the election,” Trump repeated his mantra from 2016 that he can’t be sure he will accept the results of the election: “I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
“I’ll say it again,” President Donald Trump says, expecting that the coronavirus will fade away.
Trump defended Southerners who fly the Confederate battle flag, vowed to block efforts to change the names of military forts that honor Confederate generals, claimed Biden is mentally unfit.
The embattled president predicted he would win reelection, despite polls he denounced as “fake.”
“Do you know how many times I’ve been written off?” he said.
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Several viewers of the interview pointed out Trump’s repeated misstatements. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said the Wallace interview “really shows who and what our president is: Incoherent. Idiotic. Rambling. Insensitive. Illogical. Ignorant. And worse. Great work by Chris Wallace.”
Wallace frequently sought to correct the president. The two men – who sat outside in the heat – argued when the president described the increase in COVID-19 cases as “burning embers”; Wallace said it was more like a “forest fire.”
During the interview, which lasted nearly an hour, Trump:
•Claimed the coronavirus death rate is going down, even though it has accelerated.
Trump, who has declined to take responsibility for COVID-19 problems, said, “Look, I take responsibility, always, for everything because it’s ultimately my job, too. I have to get everybody in line.” He said, “Some governors have done well, some governors have done poorly.”
Trump attributed the rise in cases to increased testing, though experts said the increased rate of infections far outpaces the increased rate of testing. Increases came after states reopened, moves encouraged by the president.
•Denied that his staff organized attacks on Anthony Fauci but said his administration’s top doctor has “made some mistakes” and is “a little bit of an alarmist.”
Fauci said some of his views – including those about the value of wearing masks – have changed as evidence about the virus emerges. In an interview with InStyle.com, Fauci said he is an “apolitical person,” and “it’s pretty tough walking a tightrope while trying to get your message out and people are trying to pit you against the president.”
Reminded in the Fox News interview of his own false assessments about the threat posed by the virus, Trump said, “I guess everybody makes mistakes.”
•Refused to say whether he will sign a bill that would grant pay raises to the military but also would require changing the names of forts dedicated to Confederate generals such as Braxton Bragg.
Trump said military members will “get their pay raise,” but he would block changing the names of the forts, even though the Pentagon wants to do it.
“I don’t care what the military says,” Trump said. “I’m supposed to make the decision.”
Trump asked whether officials wanted to name forts after “the Rev. Al Sharpton,” the Black civil rights leader. Pentagon officials said they want to name the forts after post-Civil War military officials such as Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgway.
•Said people who want to fly Confederate battle flags “love their flag,” and “it represents the South; they like the South.” Trump said he is “not offended” by people flying “Blacks Lives Matter” flags, and both involve “freedom of speech.”
•Suggested he might not sign a new economic relief bill if it does not include legal immunity for businesspeople who fear being sued over the spread of COVID-19 and a payroll tax cut. Some legislators have been cool to both ideas.
“I’ll have to see, but, yeah, I would consider not signing it if we don’t have a payroll tax cut, yes,” Trump told Fox News.
•Condemned the new book by his niece Mary Trump, who said the president was scarred by his hyper-competitive father and developed habits of lying and self-deception that followed him into the White House.
Trump called the book “a lie” and described his father as “a very good man” who didn’t like to lose.
•Proclaimed that Fox News – once his favorite network – has “changed a lot” since the days when Roger Ailes ran it, in part because it interviews too many Democrats.
•Said he doesn’t think Biden is “senile,” but “I’d say he’s not competent to be president.” At another point, he said, “Joe doesn’t know he’s alive.”
Biden said he is happy to match wits with Trump anytime.
Biden spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said Sunday that Trump “lurched from smear to smear,” but that tactic has been failing for months.
“There is one candidate in this race who has failed to keep the American people safe this year: Donald Trump,” she said.
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A spate of new polls show Biden with a double-digit lead.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey published early Sunday gives Biden a lead of 55%-40% among registered voters, up from a 10-percentage-point lead in May.
Fox News taped the interview with Trump on Friday (before the death of congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis).
Wallace fact-checked Trump frequently during the interview, including the president’s claim that Biden advocated “defunding” the police. The presumptive Democratic nominee has never used the phrase.
Some analysts said Trump is making up things about his administration’s COVID-19 response.
“Chris Wallace asked the president about his many many incorrect statements about the pandemic,” tweeted Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University. “The president’s response: ‘I’ll be right eventually.’ Reminds me of an old adage in medicine: ‘All bleeding stops eventually.’”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘I’ll be right eventually’: Donald Trump defends his COVID-19 response