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Coronavirus government response updates: Trump defends taking unproven drug, attacks study finding dangers

Trump says he is taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven drug against the virus.

Members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet came to his defense Tuesday afternoon over what he's said is his use of the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure for COVID-19, despite a study showing the dangers of the drug and safety concerns from the FDA.

"It's got a bad reputation only because I'm promoting and so I'm obviously a very bad promoter. If anybody else we're promoting it, they'd say this is the greatest thing ever," Trump told reporters in a White House meeting.

Trump has touted the anti-malaria drug as a possible "game changer" treatment for COVID-19 and on Monday said he's taken a pill a day for about a week and a half, though he said he has "zero symptoms."

Though the drug is currently in controlled, clinical trials for front-line workers, the FDA recently warned against taking "outside of a hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems."

Trump also criticized a retrospective study of veterans hospitalized in the U.S., which found more deaths among patients who took the drug as opposed to those who received standard care. He called it "false," "phony" and a "Trump enemy statement."

Here are Tuesday's most significant developments in Washington:

  • Trump says he's been taking hydroxychloroquine and zinc as a coronavirus 'preventative,' despite FDA warnings
  • Trump went to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators at their weekly policy lunch
  • Trump spoke on supporting the nation's farmers, ranchers and the food supply chain
  • Pence, Mnuchin, McConnell and McCarthy met on Capitol Hill
  • Mnuchin and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee
  • Trump says he has experienced 'no impact' from hydroxychloroquine, adds he'd recommend the drug to others with the consent of their doctors

    President Trump said he hasn't had any noticeable side effects from taking hydroxychloroquine and explained for the first time that his decision to start taking the drug was related to the two positive cases of COVID-19 at the White House the week before last.

    "I have had no impact from it. I feel the same. I haven't changed, I don't think, too much," Trump said in defending his decision to take the drug as a prophylactic. "It doesn't seem to have any impact on me, but it seems to be an extra line of defense."

    The president has previously said he started taking the drug about a week and a half ago, but it wasn't until this afternoon that he explained how those positive cases influenced his decision to start taking the medication.

    "I also had a case where we had somebody fairly close to me, very nice young fellow men. He tested positive. And he tested positive, plus, I deal with Mike a lot. He had someone close to him who I also see who tested positive. I thought from my standpoint, not a bad time to take it. Because we had the combination. Those two people," Trump said in explaining his personal decision to take the drug.

    He continued to promote the drug as an effective treatment in treating and preventing COVID-19, despite the lack of scientific merit in doing so and said it's "gotten a bad reputation only because I'm promoting it."

    "It's gotten tremendous reviews from some people including many, many doctors all over the world. And you should look at some of the studies. They've been amazing, some of the studies. But that's up to people and it's up, I think, strongly recommend to people with their doctors' advice and acknowledgment," Trump said.

    ABC News' Jordyn Phelps

    Trump continues to attack study of hospitalized veterans, Azar and Wilkie come to his defense

    For the second day in a row, Trump tore into a retrospective study of veterans hospitalized in the U.S., which found more deaths among patients who took the drug as opposed to those who received standard care, calling it "false," "phony" and a "Trump enemy statement."

    "It was a false study done, where they gave it to very sick people extremely sick people, people that were ready to die. It was given by obviously not friends of the administration and the study came out that people were ready to die. Everybody was old had bad problems with hearts diabetes and everything else you can imagine," Trump said, before having Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie weigh in.

    Azar echoed the president in noting the FDA has approved hydroxychloroquine for decades for others "off-label purposes" -- but did not mention the agency's warnings.

    "The system we have here in the United States that is once a drug has been approved and on the market, a doctor in consultation with a patient may use it for what we call off-label purposes, which are indications that are not yet proven and not yet in the label," Azar said. "We are still working on some controlled studies earlier in the disease progression to see if we can measure the effectiveness of it in preventing the replication of the virus and spread in mild to moderate cases rather than the more serious, and that data is still pending."

    The president then cut off Azar to say "it's got very good reviews," and then asked Wilkie to speak, who emphasized that although the study was in VA hospitals, he said it wasn't a "VA study."

    "That was not a VA study," Wilkie said, trying to distance his agency from the analysis. "Researchers took VA numbers. And they did not clinically review them. They were not peer reviewed. They did not even look at what the president just mentioned, the various co-morbidities that the patients who were referenced in that study had."

    The study was partially funding by the federal government's National Institutes of Health and conducted in Veterans Affairs hospitals.

    Trump signs executive order to suspend regulations impeding economic recovery

    In his afternoon remarks in the Cabinet Room, President Trump announced he was instructing federal agencies to weigh and suspend any regulations that impede economic recovery amid the pandemic.

    "In a few minutes, I will sign an executive order instructing federal agencies to use any and all authority to weigh, suspend, and eliminate unnecessary regulations that impede economic recovery. And we want to leave it that way. We want to leave it that way. In some cases, we won't be able to, but in other cases, we will," Trump said.

    Conservatives have pushed in recent weeks for stimulating the economy through deregulation instead of another expensive relief package.

    He also said he was instructing agencies to use the emergency authorities to speed up regulation cuts.

    "We had cases where it would take 20 years to build a highway. You'd have to go through various agencies to get the same permit. I lived with it in the private sector, so I know it better than anybody," the president continued. "We are getting rid of all of that."

    Right before signing the hard copy, Trump noted, "it gives you tremendous power to cut regulation."

    Trump opened his afternoon remarks Tuesday by claiming cases numbers of coronavirus are going down "very rapidly" -- though some areas are still seeing cases rise.

    Vice President Mike Pence echoed the president's optimism and added that the U.S. will "maybe" be conducting 40 to 50 million tests a month by September.

    Trump defends taking unproven drug, slams study finding dangers

    After finishing a lunch with GOP senators on Capitol Hill, an unmasked President Trump told reporters they all had "a great meeting."

    "We have a lot of very positive things happening, both in terms of the country, in terms of the election that is coming up," Trump said. "The priority we have is a priority for the country -- and bringing it back. I use the expression 'transition to greatness.' We are going to have a really good third quarter. It's already happening."

    Trump, who notably has a common form of heart disease, defended his use of hydroxychloroquine when asked if it was okay for him to promote when health experts, including the FDA, have warned of serious side effects.

    "Well, I work with doctors, and if you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old. Almost dead. It was a Trump enemy statement," the president said, speaking of a retrospective, non-peer reviewed study of veterans hospitalized through the Department of Veterans Affairs, which found hydroxychloroquine associated with an increase of overall mortality in COVID-19 patients.

    He went on to cite other reports that he said support his belief that hydroxychloroquine is effective.

    "Now, if you look at some of the reports that came out from Italy, that came out from France, that came out from others, a lot of our front-line workers take it because of possibly -- and I think it does -- but you know, people are going to have to make up their own mind," Trump continued. "Plus, it doesn't hurt people. It has been out on the market for 60 or 65 years for malaria, lupus and other things."

    Several health experts, however, have warned that the drug could have dangerous side effects like causing potentially deadly irregular heart rhythms.

    The analysis Trump mentioned, which he has called the "only negative" to the drug, was published on medRxiv and analyzed 368 male patients with a median age over 65 in the VA health system diagnosed with COVID-19.

    "In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone," the study's authors wrote. "These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs."

    There were 70 deaths in the study. Eighteen of those deaths were in patients not treated with hydroxychloroquine, compared to 27 deaths in those taking hydroxychloroquine and 25 deaths in those taking hydroxychloroquine plus zinc -- a combination Trump has endorsed.

    The president went on to claim that science around the drug has become politicalized.

    "I think it gives you an additional level of safety, but you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it. Many front-line workers won't go there unless they have the hydroxy. And so again, this is an individual decision to make, but it has had a great reputation, and if it was somebody else other than me, people would say gee, isn't that smart?" Trump said.

    The FDA is allowing frontline workers to use hydroxychloroquine as part of controlled, clinical trials, but there are still no FDA-approved preventative medications or vaccines for COVID-19.

    Asked if he had a response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting he's "morbidly obese," Trump called her a "waste of time" before later adding she's a "sick woman" with "a lot of mental problems."

    When asked about the Trump using the unproven drug Tuesday, Pelosi said it was "not a good idea."

    "I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, 'morbidly obese,' they say," the California Democrat told CNN.

    ABC News' Jordyn Phelps

    Unlike Trump, Pence is not taking hydroxychloroquine

    While President Trump is taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic, his vice president is not.

    A spokesperson to Pence confirmed Tuesday he is not taking the drug.

    The vice president first confirmed that he is not taking the drug in a yet-to-air Fox News interview after ignoring repeated shouted questions from reporters on the topic.

    It has now been 11 days since the vice president's press secretary tested positive for the virus.

    ABC News' Jordyn Phelps

    Trump says he's going after Virginia's 'crazy governor' at event on American farmers, ranchers and the food supply chain

    The Department of Agriculture has begun the process of purchasing and distributing $3 billion of agricultural products to those in need through a "Food Box Distribution Program," President Trump said at a White House event Tuesday.

    "We are providing $19 billion to support our nation's agricultural producers, maintain the health of our critical food supply chains and provide food assistance to American families," Trump said, speaking to the overall funding, authorized by the CARES Act, that the boxed food program is housed under. "You could go back to Abraham Lincoln. There is no president that has treated the farmers like Trump."

    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last month that $16 billion of the program would be in direct payments to farmers who have experienced losses during the pandemic and $3 billion would buy agricultural products from farmers to get to food banks.

    Trump said Tuesday local food distribution companies -- "many of which are small businesses adversely impacted also by this horrible plague" -- started deliveries this week.

    He then called up a handful of farmers and ranchers who praised the president for the program, and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, who called it "a great cycle" for helping small distributors, farmers and those in need, she said.

    Invited to visit Virginia by one potato farmer, Trump said, "Be careful, I might."

    "I'll be there. We're gonna, we're going after Virginia with your crazy governor. We're going after Virginia. They want to take your second amendment away, you know, that right? You'll have nobody guarding your potatoes," the president continued.

    Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and no stranger to the president's criticism, was quick to fire back, responding to a CBS reporter's tweet -- and he included a medical suggestion to Trump.

    "I grew up on a Virginia farm, Mr. President -- our potatoes are fine. And as the only medical doctor among our nation's governors, I suggest you stop taking hydroxychloroquine. Let's all get back to work," Northam said.

    ABC News' Stephanie Ebbs

    White House press secretary doesn't know 'exact rationale' behind Trump's use of hydroxychloroquine, Birx appears to ignore question

    White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said this morning that she didn't know "the exact rationale" behind President Trump's decision to take hydroxychloroquine but that "the president just wanted to be transparent about his personal health decision that he made in consultation with his doctor."

    "I don't have any information about the exact rationale," she told Fox News when asked for details. "That was a personal deliberation with Dr. Conley and the president."

    McEnany noted that "any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor" and requires a prescription.

    Speaking to reporters outside the White House after her interview, McEnany dismissed questions about any vagueness and careful wording of the memo from White House physician Sean Conley released Monday night, saying the purpose "was to give a medical rationale" for the decision for Trump to take it.

    "The purpose of this letter was to show that Dr. Conley agreed with the analysis that the benefits outweighed the risk," she said. "The president should be taken at his word, and the purpose of this letter was to show just that, as it did, the rationale behind it."

    The White House's coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, ignored a question from a reporter this morning on the topic, as she walked by a camera in the White House driveway. She, instead, commented on the weather.

    ABC News' Ben Gittleson

    Pence meets with Mnuchin, McConnell and McCarthy on Capitol Hill

    Nearly two weeks after his press secretary tested positive for COVID-19, Vice President Mike Pence was at the U.S. Capitol building this morning for a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "to discuss COVID-19 and economy," according to a McConnell spokesperson.

    The four were scheduled to meet before Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee.

    McConnell was questioned last week if he opposes measures in the new House bill such as direct payments for Americans or hazard pay for essential workers.

    "What I've said is, we're taking a look at what we've already done. And we've added about $3 trillion to the national debt, and assessing the effectiveness of that before deciding to go forward. I'm in discussion, we all are, with the administration. If we reach a decision along with the administration to move to another phase, that'll be the time to interact with the Democrats," he said.

    ABC News' Trish Turner

    Trump tweets 4-page letter about WHO funding, threatens permanent hold

    Citing concerns about what he called the "World Health Organization's alarming lack of independence from the People's Republic of China," President Trump late Monday tweeted out a four-page letter to the WHO director-general saying if the United Nations agency "does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of U.S. funding permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization."

    Earlier Monday, Trump said he declined an opportunity to speak to the WHO virtual assembly on the pandemic because "they've done a very sad job in the last period of time" and "they are a puppet of China."

    China's President Xi Jinping did not pass up his chance to address the WHO's decision-making body. During his remarks, Xi supported an international review after the pandemic ends and also said China would donate $2 billion to global coronavirus aid.

    ABC News' Ben Gittleson

    This report was featured in the Wednesday, May 20, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

    "Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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