As the coronavirus death toll mounts, President Donald Trump has been criticized by some in the media and Democratic Party who allege he failed to take the impending public health crisis seriously in the early stages.
In comments this week, however, Trump revealed that the first intelligence briefing he received regarding the new virus was on January 23, at which time intelligence and medical experts downplayed the severity of the growing outbreak.
“There could be a virus coming in”
Trump’s remarks came as part of a Fox News Channel virtual town hall that aired on Sunday. One viewer-submitted question referred to reports that Trump had been briefed weeks before the virus was first reported in the U.S. but ignored the warnings and failed to take adequate steps to prepare.
The president noted that he imposed travel restrictions on U.S.-bound individuals near the virus’s origin in China, going on to name others — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and his own coronavirus adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci — who expressed little immediate concern about the coronavirus in late January.
As of that time, Trump said, initial reports did not include an urgency to act. He indicated that he would soon release intelligence data allowing Americans to access what he knew and when he knew it.
“On January 23, I was told that there could be a virus coming in, but it was of no real import,” he recalled. “In other words, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something.'”
Instead, Trump described a “brief conversation” on that day with “20 people, 21 people in the room,” of whom he was the only one arguing for travel restrictions.
“Nobody thought this was going to happen”
“But take a look,” he continued. “On, I think it was February 26, Nancy Pelosi is [saying], ‘Let’s dance in the streets of Chinatown’ to show that it’s not going to hurt us. In other words, I’m not blaming her for it, but nobody thought this was going to happen.”
Trump also placed blame on China, suggesting the communist regime either failed to recognize the seriousness of the virus or attempted to hide the situation until it spread out of control. In any case, the president continued to defend his course of action.
“The intelligence agencies told me on the 23rd,” he repeated. “Shortly thereafter, I closed down the country, but I didn’t do it because of what they said. Because they said it was very matter of factly it was not a big deal.”
He has similarly defended his more recent calls to re-open parts of the nation with certain restrictions in place. Referencing shutdown orders enacted by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, both Democrats, he said he believes “they’re being unreasonable” and cited “a lot of protests out there” as evidence.
Trump’s account of the coronavirus timeline seems to stand in contrast to the narrative being pushed by partisans and pundits who claim he ignored several red flags as the pandemic began threatening the nation. It should be enough to convince at least some of those denigrators to re-evaluate their opinions.