Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:01 P.M. EDT
MS. MCENANY: Hello, everyone. Today, President Trump was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work in brokering an Israel-United Arab Emirates peace deal. It was a historic deal and the first such deal in over two decades. This is a hard-earned and well-deserved honor for this President.
President Trump's foreign policy will always be one of peace through strength, and that is what the American people are seeing abroad. Career politicians merely talk about the kind of results this President has achieved on the world stage.
End endless wars: We hear that often, but not too often do we see it actually done. Today, the President and the Pentagon and the Department of Defense are announcing a drawdown of troops in Iraq — just announced from 5,200 to 3,000.
We are getting our allies to pay their fair share. Now nine NATO countries are meeting their 2 percent spending obligations.
We've secured better trade deals for the American worker. President Trump negotiated the USMCA, the U.S.-South Korea deal; ended the Trans-Pacific Partnership; brought back manufacturing jobs.
President Trump has stood up to China: the phase one China deal; also tariffs to hold China accountable; and actions to block Huawei.
President Trump has also defeated terrorists. The ISIS caliphate is destroyed. Al-Baghdadi is no longer on the battlefield, along with Iranian General Soleimani.
In addition to these priorities, President Trump has made peace a cornerstone of his recent foreign policy efforts. The peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates led to the first flight from Israel over Saudi Arabia's airspace to the United Arab Emirates. The signing ceremony for this historic deal will be September 15th at the White House.
President Trump has also brokered economic normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, a major breakthrough in this decades-old conflict.
It's a fact: President Trump "has broken the 39-year-old streak of American Presidents either starting a war or bringing the United States into an international armed conflict," as a great Washington Examiner piece headline read.
These wins are possible because of the President's leadership and outsider perspective. President Trump addresses old challenges with new solutions and delivers results for the American people.
And with that, I'll take questions. Paula.
Q: Kayleigh, thank you. I'd like to ask you about the Woodward interviews. Did President Trump intentionally mislead the American people about the threat of COVID, a pandemic that has now cost the lives of nearly 200,000 Americans?
MS. MCENANY: Absolutely not. This President — at a time when you're facing insurmountable challenges, it's important to express confidence, it's important to express calm.
Q: He said specifically, "I wanted to always play it down." Is "playing it down," is that — is that expressing calm? It seems dishonest. It seems like a lie.
MS. MCENANY: Can you read the rest of the quote?
Q: That's how much they put in there. He said, "I wanted to play it down."
MS. MCENANY: Oh, you excluded the last part.
Q: We'll play the full thing on "60 Minutes" on Sunday.
MS. MCENANY: Please — please do.
Q: Do you deny —
MS. MCENANY: Please do. Please do explain —
Q: — that he misled the American people —
MS. MCENANY: Of course, I deny that.
Q: — about the threat of this pandemic?
MS. MCENANY: And he makes clear that he doesn't want to see chaos, by the way, is the second part of the quote, which you failed to read.
The President, just days after having this discussion with Bob Woodward, said this, from this podium. On March 30th, he said, "I do want them to stay calm…We are doing a great job. If you look at the individual statements, they're all true. Stay calm. It will go away," but it's important to stay calm.
So this President does what leaders do — good leaders: It's stay calm and resolute at a time when you face an unsurmountable challenge. That's what this President has done.
Q: So when we hear these tapes, it will not appear that the President lied to the American public about the threat posed by COVID?
MS. MCENANY: The President has never lied to the American public on COVID. The President has been very —
Q: You said it was (inaudible).
MS. MCENANY: The President was expressing calm, and his actions reflect that.
On January 6th, the CDC issued a Wuhan travel notice before any confirmed U.S. cases, among another — a number of other actions. And I'd refer you to Dr. Fauci who said that this President has an impressive response. "I can't imagine under any circumstance that [anyone] could be doing [anything] more." That is the record of this President.
Q: Kayleigh, but how do you square the President's words to Woodward when he said, "This is a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff." And then, just two weeks after he told Woodward that, he said, "This is a flu. This is like a flu." And of course, he also said it was going to quickly go to zero. But that seems to be in direct contradiction of what he told Woodward.
MS. MCENANY: Well, the President was listening to his medical experts because you also have, at the same time period, Dr. Fauci who said this. Asking — asked if the seasonal flu was a bigger concern, he said this on February 17th: "So right now at the same time people are worrying about going to a Chinese restaurant, the threat is that [what] we have in this country, we're having a pretty bad influenza season, particularly dangerous for our children." So he was reflecting that point.
And again, days later, in a briefing, he said, "The statements I made are [this]: I want to keep the country calm." That is what leaders do, and that's what President Trump does.
Q: But in that statement, Fauci is not comparing the two. He's not saying coronavirus was like a flu.
MS. MCENANY: He was at — it was a COVID interview, and he was asked about seasonal flu vis-à-vis COVID, saying exactly what the President said.
And, in fact, the President was taking it more seriously because, on the tape, he noted that flu could be worse and he was taking action to address it.
Once again, context matters. That zero reported COVID cases, the CDC was implementing public health screenings, House Dems were preparing to file their first briefs in impeachment. One reported case, CDC — when there was one reported case, the CDC was activating an emergency operation center while Pelosi was releasing a statement criticizing McConnell over impeachment.
On January 31st, the President issued a travel ban on China, one that the former Vice President called xenophobic. That's what Democrats were doing while this President was acting. And his actions reflect the seriousness with which he took COVID-19.
Q: Kayleigh, you quoted Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci is also apparently on the record saying of President Trump that his "attention span is like a minus number, and his sole purpose is to get reelected." That's according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
I think the bottom line here is that the President, by his own admission, in private, on the record, acknowledged the depth of this crisis, and yet told the American people something very different. How is that, at its core, not an abject betrayal of the public trust?
MS. MCENANY: The President has always been clear-eyed with the American people. He was always clear-eyed about the lives we could lose. Again, from this podium, he acknowledged that this was serious — back in March — that 100,000, 200,000 lives could be lost.
And with regard to Dr. Fauci, you're referring to a quote he allegedly told Bob Woodward, and I can give you quotes that we can all play on loop and video of him saying that his response was impressive and he can't imagine anyone under any circumstance doing anything better.
Dr. Fauci saying this: "I can just tell you" — the President — "the first and only time I went and said [you need to] do mitigation strongly, the response was, ‘Yes, we will do it.'" "The second time…I went with Dr. Birx to the President and said, ‘Fifteen days [to slow the spread] are not enough. We need to go to 30 days,' obviously, there were [a lot of] people who had problems with that because of potential secondary effects. Nonetheless…the President went with the health recommendations…"
So there's a long litany of praise from Dr. Fauci, and you're referencing something he allegedly told Bob Woodward.
Q: It's on tape. It's on tape, Kayleigh.
MS. MCENANY: Well, I'm reading —
Q: The President is on tape.
MS. MCENANY: I'm reading to you what Dr. Fauci has said very publicly for all to see. And we can all play those video clips. I can get them in your inbox.
Q: But President Trump —
MS. MCENANY: Yes, Zeke.
Q: — on February 7th, said, "It's deadly stuff" — about coronavirus — in private, on the record.
In public though, February 28th, he says, "One day — it's like a miracle — it will disappear." It's — it's one thing to, as a public figure, not to try to incite panic. It's a very different thing, respectfully, to lie and mislead the American people about — about a crisis that has claimed nearly 200,000 American lives.
MS. MCENANY: No one is lying to the American people. One day, COVID will go away. I think we can all hope for that day. We will have a vaccine because of this President tearing through bureaucracy to get a safe and effective vaccine.
One day, it will go away. That is a fact. It is not inciting fear. This President has expressed calmness from this podium; mobilized the greatest mobilization of the private sector since World War Two; got more tests than any country in the world on COVID; a vaccine which, by the way, will be a record for a novel pathogen — the timing of this vaccine — should we get it by the end of the year or should we get it even three years, which was the timing of Ebola.
This President has done an unprecedented job dealing with COVID — one that Dr. Fauci even acknowledged. And like I said, I will get you that clip to your inbox.
Q: Kayleigh, just — you mentioned, a few minutes ago, that this is an insurmountable problem. I think that's quite a point of dispute. If you look around the world, the United States leads the world in — for cases — in deaths from COVID-19. So doesn't the President have — bear responsibility for that record, as well as the testing and the vaccine development that you were just talking about?
MS. MCENANY: No. When you've looked at the rest of the world — in particular, the case fatality rate in the United States is about 3 percent — the world is 3.3 percent. The UK 11.9 percent; France, 8.8 percent; Belgium, 11.2. And you can go through the various Western world countries that have dealt with COVID, and we've done a very good job.
The case fatality rate notes that, and that's a testament to our therapeutics that the President has navigated —
Q: But if you look at the per capita rate, the U.S. is still — towards the very top of that.
MS. MCENANY: The case fatality is the metric that shows how well our response has done with therapeutics, and we are leading the world in having the lowest case fatality rate. It's a very important metric, and one that's a testament, once again, to a President who ripped through barriers getting us remdesivir, convalescent plasma, and other very good, working therapeutics.
Q: And, Kayleigh, you mentioned the President is very focused on a response there. Then why did the President have thousands of people, many not wearing masks, at a rally last night in what — you know, in a state that has limited outdoor gatherings to 50 people? Why is he going to Nevada this weekend to hold similar outdoor rallies? Gatherings of large numbers of people in violation of his administration's own guidance and of the best advice and guidance of local officials, who he has said should have the final say in these matters?
MS. MCENANY: People have a First Amendment right, if they so choose, to show up and express their political opinion in the form of a peaceful protest, which is what the President held. And there is a real double standard here.
CNN had on a guest — apparently a doctor — Rob Davidson, who said, "Now, true, there are social distancing issues" — with regard to the protests we've seen around the country — "however, this is a public health crisis. They are marching against systemic racism."
So if you're allowed to march in aggregate in those protests, you are also allowed to show up at a political rally.
Q: We're not suggesting you can't.
MS. MCENANY: You have a First Amendment right in this country.
Q: But doesn't the President have a responsibility to keep people safe?
MS. MCENANY: Mario.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. How can the President bear no responsibility for the 200- — almost 200,000 lives lost when he downplayed the virus initially and he knew that how contagious and deadly it was? I don't understand how that can —
MS. MCENANY: The President never downplayed the virus. Once again, the President expressed calm. The President was serious about this. When Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment, he was expressing calm and he was taking early action. And his actions are reflective of how seriously he took COVID.
Q: But does he regret the tact that he took, the language that he used?
MS. MCENANY: No.
Q: You said that he used hopeful language. Does — does he regret that, given the way we are now?
MS. MCENANY: No, this President embodied the American spirit: that when we face a challenge, a crisis, a pandemic, we come together. We can be optimistic. We can be serious about it; we can take it seriously with our actions, which is exactly what this President does. It's why we lead the world in testing, doing far more than the number two, which is India.
He took this seriously, but he still expressed calm. Our food supply chains were at risk — that we could not have mass runs on grocery stores. The markets. Also, the economy was in play here. We didn't want there to be a huge crash and panic. He expressed calmness from this podium, but he has always taken it seriously. And the response — an unprecedented response — really reflects that.
Q: Hi. So, thanks, Kayleigh. I wanted to ask you about the AstraZeneca trial. So does that throw a spanner in the works, that they've halted those trials, in terms of getting a vaccine quickly?
And then I have a follow-up.
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so the AstraZeneca paused their trials — phase three clinical trial. It was a routine response when you see an adverse effect. And it was one that shows that the science is guiding the way here. And when there was an adverse response that was identified in one individual, AstraZeneca chose to pause that phase three clinical trial.
There are still two American vaccines in phase three clinical trials showing great promise. But, you know, AstraZeneca — what is happening there is showing that the science is guiding the way on a vaccine, which is what Dr. Fauci, others like Alex Azar and the President have said all along.
Q: But you're still confident that you'll see a vaccine, sort of, before the end of the year?
MS. MCENANY: By the end of the year is the goal, yes.
Q: And has that slipped, though? Because there was some discussion about seeing something around the time of the election. So do you think it delays that?
MS. MCENANY: Our timing is not about the election; it is about saving lives. And "by the end of the year" has always been our goal. But, of course, a safe and effective vaccine, we will take it as quickly as we can get it.
Q: Can I ask you real quick about China, too? So, the Customs and Border Protection was supposed to be announcing — or said that they would announce a ban on imports of many products from Xinjiang province in China as a result of the human rights abuses there against the Uyghurs.
That announcement hasn't come formally. It was supposed to be announced here at the White House. Are you intending to make that announcement? Or has there been some backlash against just the breadth of it? It does encompass quite a lot of different products, including tomato products that, you know —
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I have no upcoming announcements about how we'll publicly talk about that discussion. But if I get more information, I'll let you know.
Q: Kayleigh, can I ask about Nevada, please?
MS. MCENANY: Sure.
Q: It's my understanding that the two rallies this weekend in Nevada have been canceled because of Governor Sisolak's order preventing events of 50 people or more. Does the President have a reaction? And what is the White House policy about complying with a state's orders limiting the size of an event?
MS. MCENANY: I have not heard that about the rallies, but I'd refer you to the campaign for further information on that.
But as I discussed with Zeke here, that we believe that if people want to show up and express their political views, that's their choice to do so. We hand out masks. We encourage individuals to wear those masks. A lot of people did. I was in North Carolina last night and saw it. We give out hand sanitizer.
But at the end of the day, if you want to join a peaceful protest, you can do so, and there's no — there's no reason, just like the protests we've seen in the streets, you can't show up and express your political view at a rally.
Q: Kayleigh, can you give us some understanding about why the President agreed to sit down with Bob Woodward for 18 interviews when his first book about the administration was so deeply critical?
MS. MCENANY: Because he's the most transparent President in history.
Q: Okay. So one more follow-up. When do you expect that we'll get the list — the short list of who the President is considering for the SCOTUS picks? And what's the criteria that he's using to assemble that list?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, that's a good question. You'll get that list in short order. The President is very excited to share who he would nominate to the Supreme Court. And what will guide his choices are people who follow the Constitution. He wants Constitution-abiding judges. He wants textualists who believe the words of a statute actually are what they are, not subject to interpretation. He wants judges guided by the Constitution; judges in the ilk of the two that he's nominated, like Justice Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Did the President or anyone at the White House have conversations with the Department of Justice about their decision to intervene in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit? And if so, what were the nature of those conversations?
MS. MCENANY: I'm not aware of any discussions that have been had.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. The President has claimed he's signed the most favored nations executive order on prescription drugs. He mentioned this again last night. We haven't seen the text. Has he actually signed the EO? And if so, when will we see the text? And can you tell us what the status of negotiations are with pharma?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so the EO I believe he's referring to there is the previous one he has signed. A provision of that was most favored nation, which means that for Medicare programs, you have two ways to get prescriptions: Part D or Part B. Part B are drugs you would receive at the doctor's office, and the executive order tells the Secretary to peg prices for Part B to a most favored nation price to make sure that American citizens are getting their medications at a price equally as cheap as other countries. So that was the initial EO I believe he was referring to. But any updates, I'll let you know in the upcoming days.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. Just following up on the coronavirus issues: How is it not misleading for his advisors to tell him and compare this virus potential to the Spanish Flu of 1918, but then for the President to say that this could disappear by April?
MS. MCENANY: The President, again, was expressing calm. The President was hopeful that, you know, COVID would — that we would be able to manage this and handle it in a way that we can make it go away as quickly as possible.
And President the rose to the occasion and did just that. This was a lot more — by the way, it's worth mentioning the misleading that the WHO and China did on this. When you had the WHO — they were repeating China's claim that the virus does not transmit. This was a novel virus no one had seen, and you had the World Health Organization saying this virent [sic] — virus does not transmit readily. That is the information we were getting.
You had —
Q: But the President's own advisors — Matt Pottinger, Robert O'Brien — said that this virus could be the biggest threat to his presidency. Matt Pottinger agreed with that assessment. And then President Trump would later say that no one could have predicted this, when his own experts were predicting this.
MS. MCENANY: Look, you're referring to the intel community, and they — what the President knew was — and I've walked you through this before: On January 23rd, the intel community briefed President Trump for the first time about COVID. And the briefing said, "Coronavirus from China is poised to spread globally, but the good news is that it is not deadly for most people." This is the information President Trump was getting.
And the next time he was briefed on it was January 28th, when he was told that the spread was happening outside of China and the deaths remained all inside China. He was told then that China is not sharing key data. Indeed, China was not. Because as I noted to you, on January 9th, the World Health Organization said, "It does not readily transmit between people."
And on January 14th, the World Health Organization said "no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission." Clearly, that was not true.
Even on February 29th, as the virus was spreading, the WHO put political correctness first by opposing travel restrictions. Note that, on January 31st, President Trump put into place those travel restrictions that Democrats called "xenophobic." Shame on them.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. On the same day the President tweeted that the virus would become weaker when the weather started getting warmer, he told Bob Woodward it was going to be deadly stuff. So why does Bob Woodward get the President's unvarnished opinion when the American people don't?
MS. MCENANY: He was giving Bob Woodward the same opinion he gave from the podium. And he said, "I'm here. I want to express calm. That is what a leader does." He has always shared the facts, he has always been forthright, and he's always followed the advice of his medical experts, like Dr. Fauci who called his response "impressive."
Q: But he never said this was "deadly stuff" —
MS. MCENANY: Yes.
Q: — to the American people.
MS. MCENANY: Yes, he did. He acknowledged that hundreds of thousands could die, and he took the right response, which was to temporarily shut down the country. It saved millions of lives, and so too have his therapeutics, so too will the vaccine that's being developed.
Q: The protests in Belarus continue, as well as the crackdown on the opposition. What concrete step is the President going to take to support Belarusians in their struggle for democracy and to stop human rights abuses?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, it's another very good question. The U.S. is extremely concerned by continued human rights violations in the wake of Belarus's election. Reports of opposition figures being kidnapped, forcibly expelled, or otherwise threatened are just a few of the many methods that the Belarusian government is using in its attempts to deny freedom of speech.
The U.S. is working with our international partners to hold all of those committing these abuses accountable, and we call on the Belarusian government to release all who are being unjustly detained.
As for the election, the election there was not a real election. It was neither free, nor fair; it was fraudulent. The massive number of Belarusians protesting peacefully makes clear that the government can no longer ignore the people's calls for democracy.
Q: Kayleigh, how is the President keeping his promise of ending endless wars if this announcement on Iraq is just a drawdown not a withdrawal? There are still troops in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. There are still troops. It's not really keeping the 2016 promise, is it?
MS. MCENANY: The President is drawing down our troops. These things take time. We want to ensure that the Iraqi security forces are well trained, and our U.S. troops have done a magnificent job doing just that.
We believe that now is the time when we can make this drawdown, keep the country stable, because of the training that our troops have done. So —
Q: But isn't it, kind of, an attempt to, kind of, try and make it look like the promise is being kept in advance of the election?
MS. MCENANY: No, not at all. This is an expression that we believe that Iraqi Security Forces can do this alongside the troops that will remain there. And the facts tell the story that this President broke the 39-year-old streak of American presidents either starting a war or bringing the United States into an international armed conflict.
So unlike past presidents, this President has prioritized peace through strength, which is his foreign policy.
Q: But just one really quick, to follow up —
MS. MCENANY: Yes. Chanel.
Q: — just a really, really quick follow-up.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh.
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q: Sorry, just on the breaking the 39-year trend: How does that work if the President sent troops into Saudi Arabia?
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q: Kayleigh, thank you. With Kosovo and United Arab Emirates, these are Muslim-majority countries spanning two continents now, each bringing some kind of agreement with Israel towards peace.
So my question is two points: Number one, have the Palestinians opened up any kind of discourse with the White House as to their reaction to these developments with Israel and Middle Eastern countries? And number two, have the Palestinians actually expressed any interest in distancing themselves from Iran, in the interest of Middle East peace?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, through the deal, President Trump made additional progress on reaching peace in the Middle East: Kosovo and Israel agreed to mutual recognition and normalization of ties, and Serbia committed to moving its embassy to Jerusalem only a few weeks after the historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This is another huge step forward for broader peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world.
I'd refer you to the Palestinians for their reaction, but it is quite telling that this historic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo addressing a decades-long conflict was only mentioned one time on CNN and one time on MSNBC.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. I wanted to ask about the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022. More than 160 human rights groups have called on the International Olympic Committee chief to revoke the Games from Beijing.
Would President Trump support an American boycott of the Games over the Chinese regime's human rights abuses?
MS. MCENANY: I haven't spoken to him specifically on that, so I'd have to get back to you. But this President has always held China accountable. His actions very clearly show that. He has stood up to China unlike any President before him in modern history.
But one thing I do want to address is just this really egregious — and I addressed it on Friday, but it's worth updating — this Atlantic story written by a liberal activist.
Now you have 25 people who have spoken out and dismissed this story, and now you even have the author of the story who said, quote, "I share the view that it's not good enough," quote, referring to the fact that he did this false report based on anonymous sources.
And basically, when you look at the liberal activist who wrote this, he has a very bad history. He can't be trusted. The left's new hero used to be their number-one enemy for his role in the U.S. entry into Iraq. Indeed, in the early 2000s, this author was then at the New Yorker, and he extensively wrote on the possible links between Iraq and al Qaeda, a suggested link that was key behind the decision of U.S. involvement in Iraq. He relied on people who, in his words, quote, "seem to me to be credible, who said that they had information about such connections between al Qaeda and Iraq."
And Goldberg's reporting simply backed up his view that the U.S. should invade Iraq. In Slate, in 2002, this author argued in favor of the U.S. invading Iraq, and later, he even admitted that he knew people blamed him for helping to get the U.S. into the war. He wrote a sarcastic piece saying, "Yes, yes, I know I started the Iraq War." His reporting cannot be trusted, as noted by the fact that 25 people have come out on the record dismissing his report — the report by a liberal activist.
END 1:27 P.M. EDT
Kayleigh McEnany, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343589