9 controversial moments that led Trump to stop his White House coronavirus briefings

Trump hasn't led a press briefing on COVID-19 in nearly three months.

July 21, 2020, 3:25 PM

"Well, we had very successful briefings," President Donald Trump told reporters at an Oval Office photo op Monday when he announced he was resuming the once-daily updates on the government's response to the coronavirus crisis that he ended after withering criticism. "I was doing them and we had a lot of people watching, record numbers watching in the history of cable television -- television, there's never been anything like it."

While the briefings with the coronavirus task force allowed Americans to learn about the novel virus from the nation's top scientists -- members of Trump's own party pressured him to stop the free-wheeling sessions, some close to two hours long, during which he frequently touted misinformation and falsehoods.

Here's are some of the most notable moments and the backlash:

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the briefing room at the White House April 16, 2020 in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the briefing room at the White House April 16, 2020 in Washington.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Trump suggests injecting disinfectant, sunlight to treat COVID-19

In perhaps the most consequential task force briefing, on April 23 Trump suggested -- without evidence -- treating the body outside or even inside with ultraviolet light or "injection" of disinfectant might kill the coronavirus.

"So supposing we hit the body with a tremendous -- whether it's ultraviolet or just a very powerful light -- and I think you said that hasn't been checked because of the testing," Trump said. "And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that too. Sounds interesting."

"Then I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that," he continued.

The president then turned to White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and asked, "Deborah, have you ever heard of the heat and the light? Relative to certain viruses, yes. But relative to this virus?"

"Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever -- is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as -- I have not seen heat or light," she said, appearing to squirm in her seat.

PHOTO: Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 23, 2020, in Washington.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 23, 2020, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The public briefings went on a two-month hiatus less than a week after the incident, which some have called "bleachgate." Trump later said he was being "sarcastic."

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican who has been critical of Trump, said on ABC's "This Week" that it "does send a wrong message" when misinformation spreads from a leader or "you just say something that pops in your head." Asked to explain the president's comment, Hogan said, "You know, I can't really explain it."

Trump touts unproven drug to treat COVID-19

Asked on the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug unproven to treat COVID-19 that Trump has called a game changer, the president defended the unproven drug, citing, "a feeling."

"Look, it may work and it may not work. And I agree with the doctor, what he said: It may work, it may not work. I feel good about it. That's all it is. Just a feeling. You know, I'm a smart guy. I feel good about it," he said on March 20.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top expert on infectious diseases, later in the briefing said "no" when asked if there is evidence to suggest it's a prophylactic drug.

"The information that you're referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can't make any definitive statement about it," he said.

A few weeks later on April 5, Trump continued to stand by the drug, saying "What really do we have to lose?"

"We also have -- this medicine's been tested for many years for malaria and for lupus, so it's been out there. So it is a very strong, powerful medicine, but it doesn't kill people," he said.

Several former Food and Drug Administrators decried emergency use of the unproven drug, which was later revoked for treating COVID-19.

PHOTO: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, April 9, 2020.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Donald Trump addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, April 9, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump attacks Democratic governors in hard-hit states

As the pandemic worsened, the president made a habit of blaming Democratic governors for the outbreaks in their states. He also suggested those that don't appreciate his efforts will not receive federal assistance.

"I think they should be appreciative because you know what? When they're not appreciative to me, they're not appreciative to the Army Corps. They're not appreciative to FEMA. It's not right. These people are incredible. They're working 24 hours a day. Mike Pence -- I mean, Mike Pence, I don't think he sleeps anymore," Trump said on March 27.

"He calls all the governors. I tell him -- I mean, I'm a different type of person -- I say, "Mike, don't call the governor of Washington. You're wasting your time with him. Don't call the woman in Michigan," he continued, criticizing Michigan Gov. Gretchin Whitmer as hospitalizations rose in the hard-hit state.

Rep. Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican, said he contacted Whitmer and a senior White House official, to express his disapproval about their mutual sniping, according to the a New York Times report.

"It is not helpful to hurl names and talk badly about people," Mitchell said. "We need to focus on the problem."

Trump also regularly attacked Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, the first state to have reported community spread of COVID-19. A few days later on March 30, he said he refused to call the governor because he doesn't like him.

"No, I don't have to call because I'm probably better off not, because we don't get -- he's a failed presidential candidate. He's a nasty person. I don't like the governor of Washington," he said.

He also downplayed New York state's need for ventilators as the state was in its peak, saying on April 14, "40,000 ventilators for one state, ridiculous."

Trump lashes out at reporters for their questions

When ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl pressed Trump if he was able to guarantee everyone who needs a ventilator will get one, the president lashed out on him, as he did with many reporters in the two-month briefing span and continued to do in events unrelated to the coronavirus crisis since.

"I think we're in really good shape," Trump said, adding that he hopes there'll be "leftovers so we can help other people, other countries."

"Everybody that needs one will be able to get a ventilator?" Karl followed up.

"Look, look, don't be a cutie pie. Okay?" Trump said.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump points to ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump points to ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 6, 2020, in Washington.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

"You know, everyone who needs one -- nobody's ever done what we've done. Nobody's done anything like what we've been able to do. And everything I took over was a mess, it was a broken country in so many ways. In so many ways other than this. We had a bad testing system. We had a bad stockpile system. We had nothing in the stockpile system," he continued.

It represents one of many instances of Trump berating reporters at the task force briefings.

Trump calls testing 'overrated' and claims some 'big distance' states don't really it

A month after Trump said anyone who wants a test can get a test at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 6, Trump pushed for the country's reopening without having a national testing system. He said it wasn't necessary because rural states aren't getting the virus.

"There's not a lot of issues with testing. Certain sections of the -- we go to Iowa, we got to Nebraska, we go -- and interestingly, Idaho is very interesting, cause they had a few breakouts, small breakouts. But they are very very capable states, they're big distances, a lot of land, a lot of opening," Trump said. "You don't need testing there."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 20, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 20, 2020.
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"You know, where you have a state with a small number of cases, some states with almost none. West Virginia hung in for a long time, as you know, with none for a long time. So when you have that, you don't need testing. You don't have to test every person in the state of Iowa, as an example. You don't have to test every single person to say, 'let's open up and let's get the tractors moving and let's get the corn and let's open up all of the different things they do in that great state," he said.

Before the April 10 briefing, Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said the briefings were "going off the rails a little bit" and suggested Trump "let the health professionals guide where we're going to go."

Trump later called testing "overrated" and said the U.S. would never test its entire population.

After comparing COVID-19 to the flu, Trump debates its severity

After comparing the coronavirus to the flu for weeks, Trump on April 7 was confronted with his past remarks and asked what he has learned -- before he cut off the reporter with a false claim.

"I didn't say two weeks ago it was a flu," Trump said, continuing to interrupt the reporter's question. "You said I said it was just like a flu."

"So the worst pandemic we ever had in this world was a flu, and it was called -- you know that. It was in 1917, 1918. And anywhere from 50 to 100 million people died. That was a flu, okay? So, you could say that I said it was a flu or you could say -- the flu is nothing to sneeze at," he continued.

A day later, even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized Trump for his behavior at the briefings.

"Instead of saying he had been hoping for the best but was wrong when he'd said that, he got into a fight over the severity of the flu. This sort of exchange usually devolves into a useless squabble that helps Mr. Trump's critics and contributes little to public understanding," it wrote in an editorial on April 9.

"This isn't impeachment, and Covid-19 isn't shifty Schiff," it went on, using Trump's nickname for Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, who led Trump's impeachment inquiry. "It's a once-a-century threat to American life and livelihood."

Trump downplays US death toll

After the White House released its grim projection that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die from COVID-19 by the end of the year, Trump attempted to provide a rosy outlook on that number, saying it could have be in the millions if not for his action.

"It looks like we're at the lower end of the curve in terms of death, which is a terrible word, a terrible, dark word that we've experienced like nobody has ever seen before in this country. I mean, we have numbers that are terrible. But when you look at the lower levels of 100 -- lower prediction levels of 100 -- 120,000 to 220,000 -- or, if we did nothing, up to 2.2 million people -- we're looking at a much lower level than the level of — I hope than the level of 100,000," Trump said on April 9.

A day later, the New York Times reported more and more Republicans were urging Trump to stop the briefings, with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., saying Trump "sometimes drowns out his own message" and suggested a "once-a-week show" could be more effective.

Trump announces CDC recommendation on masks -- but says he doesn't see it for himself

When Trump on April 3 announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recommending all Americans wear facial coverings in public, he qualified the statement by stressing it's "a voluntary thing."

"So with the masks, it’s going to be, really, a voluntary thing. You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that’s okay. It may be good. Probably will," Trump said. "It’s only a recommendation. It’s voluntary."

Asked why he was opposed to wearing one himself, Trump suggested he doesn't think it's presidential.

"Well, I just don’t want to wear one myself. It’s a recommendation; they recommend it. I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing — I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk — the great Resolute Desk — I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just — I just don’t. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly," he said.

Trump continued to resist donning a face mask for months, as several Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the lack of leadership.

"The President, it's a vanity thing, I guess, with him," she said on MSNBC in May. "I don’t know why he would be vain, but anyways, it's a vanity thing. You would think as the President of the United States you would have the confidence to honor the guidance that you are giving others in the country. Yes, he should have worn a face mask."

Trump gives himself a 10/10 on crisis response

Asked on March 16 how'd he'd rate his response to the crisis on a scale of 1 to 10, Trump gave himself the highest marks.

"I'd rate it a 10. I think we've done a great job. And it started with the fact that we kept a very highly infected country -- despite all of the -- even the professionals saying, "No, it's too early to do that." We were very, very, early with respect to China. And we would have a whole different situation in this country if we didn't do that," Trump said.

PHOTO: Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci listen as President Donald J. Trump speaks with the coronavirus task force during a briefing on March 20, 2020 in Washington.
Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci listen as President Donald J. Trump speaks with the coronavirus task force during a briefing on March 20, 2020 in Washington.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

"I would rate it a very, very -- I would rate ourselves and the professionals -- I think the professionals have done a fantastic job," he added.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events