Trump abruptly ends press conference after reporters challenge him on coronavirus testing

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KEY POINTS
  • President Donald Trump stormed out of a coronavirus press conference after becoming angry with two reporters.
  • Trump accused a CBS reporter of asking “a nasty question,” and then refused to answer questions from another reporter he had called upon.
  • The exchanges threaten to drown out what the White House had hoped would be a chance for Trump to highlight U.S. progress in coronavirus testing.

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President Donald Trump stormed out of a coronavirus press conference at the White House on Monday after becoming angry with two reporters, one who asked a question about testing, and another who didn’t get to ask a question at all.

The event in the Rose Garden was meant to give the president a chance to boast about the recent increases in testing, and Trump spoke and answered questions for nearly an hour.

The briefing got off to a bumpy start when the president misstated the dollar amount that would be allocated to states to help with testing. “We are sending $1 billion to American states, territories and tribes,” Trump announced, in what officials had told reporters would be a high-point of the event.

But those same officials said the amount would be $11 billion, not $1 billion. Moreover, the $11 billion was appropriated in the CARES Act passed by Congress and signed into law in April, calling into question why it was being held up almost three weeks later as a major success point.

A White House spokesman later confirmed to CNBC that the amount is in fact, $11 billion.

For the remainder of his remarks, the president ran through the numbers of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other essential gear that the U.S. has produced and distributed to fight the virus.

But it was in the question and answer session that tempers erupted.

At around 5:15 p.m., CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang asked Trump, “You have said many times that the U.S. is doing far better than any other country when it comes to testing,” to which Trump said, “Yes.”

Jiang, who is Chinese American, continued, “Why does that matter? Why is it global competition to you, if every day Americans are still losing their lives, and we are still seeing more cases every day?”

“They’re losing their lives everywhere in the world,” Trump replied, “And maybe that’s a question you should ask China. Don’t ask me. Ask China that question, okay? If you ask them that question, you may get a very unusual answer.”

As Trump proceeded to call on another reporter, Jiang followed up. “Sir, why are you saying that to me, specifically?”

“I’m not saying it specifically to anybody,” Trump responded, growing visibly irate. “I’m saying that to anyone who would ask a nasty question like that.”

“That’s not a nasty question,” Jiang insisted, but Trump had already moved on.

“Anyone else?” Trump said to the assembled reporters, before calling on CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, who was standing in line behind Jiang. “OK, yes, please go ahead, in the back,” he said.

Collins approached the microphone, “I have two questions,” she said.

“No, it’s ok,” Trump said, dismissing Collins, “we’ll go up here.”

“But you pointed to me, Mr. President, and I have two questions.”

“Next, next please,” Trump said, as he looked past Collins.

“But you called on me,” Collins protested.

“I did. And you didn’t respond, and now I’m calling on the other young lady in the back,” Trump said.

“But I just wanted to let my colleague finish,” Collins said, but Trump cut her off.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. appreciate it, thank you very much,” Trump said, and he turned and walked away.

The exchange was the latest in a series of bitter back-and-forths Trump has had with reporters since he started giving near daily press briefings on the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March.

Trump has also accused China of withholding information about the virus, which originated in the city of Wuhan, thereby causing harm to the rest of the world that could have been avoided. And Trump has suggested that the virus could have been accidentally released from a Chinese laboratory, an allegation for which U.S. intelligence agencies have so far said they have no evidence.

Most recently, U.S. officials have said there are indications China is using cyber warfare to steal research on a coronavirus vaccine from American labs.

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