- Republicans are encouraging President Donald Trump to take a step back at daily coronavirus press briefings and let the experts lead the way, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
- The briefings have gone “off the rails,” one GOP senator said, and Trump should “let the health professionals guide where we’re going to go.”
- Trump’s approval numbers saw a slight bump at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, but they’ve started to dip in recent days as Americans increasingly express disapproval of his handling of the pandemic.
- The president left Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing earlier than usual.
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Top Republicans are concerned that President Donald Trump is hurting his reelection chances with rally-like performances at the daily White House press briefings on coronavirus, the New York Times reported on Thursday, and are urging him to step back and let medical experts take the helm.
Senate Majority Mitch McConnell in the early days of the coronavirus crisis privately encouraged Trump to let Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx — the leading medical experts on the White House coronavirus task force — to spearhead the daily briefings, according to The Times.
Many Americans are seemingly on the same page as the Republican leader.
Last month, a top public health expert at Harvard told Insider that Trump should “stop talking” and let Fauci and Birx take the spotlight. Recent Insider polling found that Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious disease who has appeared at nearly every White House briefing, is the most trusted voice in the country when it comes to the pandemic.
But the optics-obsessed, former reality TV star has dominated the lectern at the briefings recently, often pushing disinformation and misleading the public about his handling of the deadly virus. Because of this, some major TV networks have cut away from the briefings or stopped airing them altogether.
Most Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as he tries to replace his raucous campaign rallies with the daily briefings
Unable to safely hold campaign rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic, the daily press briefings have emerged as a substitute for Trump. The president has used the briefings as an opportunity to lash out at critics and bash the media, as he’s typically done at campaign events, and he’s boasted about the number of people who’ve tuned in for them each day.
—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2020
Though the president seems to have enjoyed the daily attention, Trump’s aides and congressional allies are concerned the president’s behavior during the briefings is boosting former Vice President Joe Biden’s chances of beating him in November. Particularly as a majority of Americans (55%) now say the federal government has done a poor job responding to the pandemic, according to a CNN poll released this week, and most (52%) disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis.
Meanwhile, Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee after Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race this week, is leading Trump by significant margins in recent polls.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Times that Trump “sometimes drowns out his own message.” Graham said he told Trump that his “opponent is no longer Joe Biden — it’s this virus,” and suggested that he appear once a week rather than every day.
The conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial board on Thursday excoriated Trump for his demeanor at the press briefings and echoed Graham’s warnings about taking on Biden during the pandemic.
“The President’s outbursts against his political critics are also notably off-key at this moment,” the Journal’s editorial board wrote. “If Mr. Trump thinks these daily sessions will help him defeat Joe Biden, he’s wrong. This election is now about one issue: how well the public thinks the President has done in defeating the virus and restarting the economy.”
In the course of roughly a month, coronavirus has altered virtually every aspect of American life and decimated the US economy. Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the past few weeks, as the US has simultaneously emerged as the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with the most confirmed cases worldwide.
Trump’s native state of New York, which has been hit harder than any other by the pandemic, had more reported cases of coronavirus than any country in the world as of Thursday (over 160,000). The novel coronavirus has claimed over 16,000 lives in the US so far and infected over 460,000 people across the country.
The president has been broadly criticized for his handling of coronavirus. The president ignored myriad warnings, which many public health experts have said left the US unprepared for a pandemic, while he downplayed the threat of the virus for weeks.
While governors like Andrew Cuomo of New York have seen a huge rise in their approval numbers due to their handling of the crisis, Trump saw only a modest boost in polling early on in the crisis, and there are growing signs the country is turning against the president as his approval numbers have dipped in recent days.
It’s in this context that a growing number of Republicans want Trump to step back from center-stage at the daily briefings.
‘Let the health professionals guide where we’re going to go’
GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia told The Times the president should “let the health professionals guide where we’re going to go,” stating that the briefings have gone “off the rails a little bit.”
A top adviser to Trump, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the president, said Vice President Mike Pence should be leading the briefings because he’s spearheading the coronavirus task force and has a better understanding of the latest details. The adviser also said Pence is better at projecting empathy than the president.
But a White House spokesperson in a statement to The Times rejected the notion Trump has a messaging problem: “Any suggestion that President Trump is struggling on tone or message is completely false. During these difficult times, Americans are receiving comfort, hope, and resources from their president, as well as their local officials, and Americans are responding in unprecedented ways.”
Trump left Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing early, citing the need to get back to ongoing negotiations on oil and airlines, and the vice president led the rest of the briefing.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider as to whether the president’s early departure on Thursday was linked to recent GOP criticism of Trump’s performances at the briefings.