White House keeps changing defense of Trump's brag that he slowed virus testing

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Donald Trump boasted at his campaign rally on Saturday that he told his staff to slow down coronavirus testing to reduce the number of positive results.

Less than two days after Donald Trump bragged about undermining coronavirus testing, his team has offered contradictory explanations for what he said.

Some administration officials said his comments at a campaign rally in Oklahoma on Saturday were meant as a joke. Some said they were an "observation." And Trump's press secretary offered both explanations at once.

"When you do testing to that extent you're going to find more people, you're going to find cases," Trump told several thousand supporters at his rally in Tulsa. "So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.' They test and they test. We got tests for people who don't know what's going on."

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On Sunday, Trump adviser Peter Navarro played it as a joke. "Come on now, Jake. You know that was tongue in cheek," he told CNN's Jake Tapper. He said it had been "a light moment for him at a rally."

Trump's campaign team had made the same argument that morning. A reporter in Oklahoma City tweeted a statement from the campaign's communications director Tim Murtaugh claiming Trump "was clearly making a joke about media coverage and making the point that more testing means finding more cases of the virus."

But on Monday, Mike Pence was heard on a regular call with the nation's governors saying that the comment had been "a passing observation." He did not say that the comment had been a joke.

At a Monday afternoon press conference, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump had made the comment "in passing" and that he had made it "in jest."

"The president was trying to expose what the media often times does, is they ignore the fact that the United States has more cases because we have more testing. We are leading the world in testing and he was pointing that out," McEnany said.

"It was a comment that he made in jest, it's a comment that he made in passing," she said, "specifically with regard to the media coverage." She said that he was not joking about the coronavirus itself, but about the media's "failure to understand the fact that when you test more, you also find more cases."

On Monday, Trump was asked directly by a reporter if he had really sought to slow down coronavirus testing. Rather than answer, he replied: "If it did slow down, frankly, I think we're way ahead of ourselves, if you wanna know the truth. We've done too good of a job."

Saturday was not the first time Trump had suggested that the number of coronavirus tests was unfairly making him look bad.

Last month, he suggested testing was "overrated" because "when you test, you have a case." "When you test, you find something is wrong with people," he said in a speech. "If we didn't do any testing, we would have very few cases."

He repeated this argument last Monday, saying at a White House event, "If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, actually."

Public health experts have faulted the administration for inadequate testing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. "We've been woefully behind this entire time. And I think what most Americans need to know is the reason we are shut down — our economy is shut down — is because we've had inadequate testing," Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told CNN in April.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.