Trump breaks silence with vaccine update after criticism he's ignored pandemic

The remarks were his first public comments since losing reelection.

November 13, 2020, 6:32 PM

After showing little signs of engaging on the coronavirus pandemic this week as it rages across the country, President Donald Trump on Friday broke a long silence with an update on his administration’s effort to support the development of a vaccine.

The image-conscious president had come under heavy criticism for showing little interest in governing in the wake of his reelection defeat -- which he is contesting with baseless allegations of fraud -- and had faced withering headlines on television and in print amid an unprecedented stretch of silence.

Trump made no new announcements, instead touting the federal government's role in the ultimate distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine that pharmaceutical company Pfizer said earlier this week had been shown in trials to be more than 90% effective.

He also used the remarks to attack a political foe, New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, saying that an independent review panel Cuomo had set up would delay New Yorkers from getting inoculated.

"As soon as April, the vaccine will be available to the entire general population, with the exceptions of places like New York state where, for political reasons, the governor decided to say -- and, you know, I don't think it's good, politically -- I think it's very bad from a health standpoint, but he wants to take his time on the vaccine," Trump said. "He doesn't trust where the vaccine’s coming from. These are coming from the greatest companies anywhere in the world, greatest labs in the world."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Nov. 13, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Nov. 13, 2020.
Evan Vucci/AP

Cuomo took to cable television soon after Trump's remarks, denying that there would be any delay caused by review panels New York and other states have set up to validate the conclusions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which authorizes and approves vaccines.

New York's scientific panel, he said, will "will review the protocol that the FDA went through, so they can say to me it was the proper protocol, it was not politicized." He said "we're not going to redo the tests that the FDA did."

"There will be no delay," Cuomo said in an interview with CNN. "Our review will be simultaneous with their delivery."

Earlier Friday, Trump had received an update in the Oval Office on "Operation Warp Speed," the federal government's vaccine program -- his first publicly announced event related to the pandemic all week. After the meeting concluded, the White House announced he would deliver "an update on Operation Warp Speed" in the White House Rose Garden later in the day.

His appearance came as the country is breaking records of new cases and hospitalizations.

The president has not attended a meeting of coronavirus task force in months. However, Vice President Pence did lead such a meeting on Monday; it was his first in nearly three weeks.

The White House said that members of the press would not be allowed to cover Friday's Oval Office meeting.

While the president has celebrated Pfizer's news on Twitter, he has principally interpreted the news through the prism of how it has impacted him personally, complaining that the announcement's timing hurt him politically.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump participates in a Veterans Day wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2020.
President Donald Trump participates in a Veterans Day wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2020.
Patrick Semansky/AP

Trump's unfounded conspiracy theory that the vaccine announcement timing was delayed so as not to benefit him echoes his similarly unfounded claim that the public's focus on the pandemic that is killing hundreds of Americans daily had been weaponized as a political tool against him.

In the final stretch of his campaign, Trump railed against the media’s focus on pandemic and expressed exasperation over all the talk of "COVID, COVID, COVID,” claiming the pandemic was being exploited to hurt his chances of re-election and that "you won't hear about it anymore" after the election.

The media has continued to cover the pandemic in detail following the election, as the virus has shown signs of worsening as the country heads into the colder months.

It has been eight days since President Trump has made public remarks. And aside from a brief outing to Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday to honor veterans, the president has remained out of view since Joe Biden was projected president-elect on Saturday.

It was the longest stretch of public silence of his presidency, aside from frequent all-caps posts on Twitter furthering debunked claims of electoral fraud.

He has been calling friends and allies, though, some of whom have taken to social media to present Trump as clear-headed.

Fox News' Geraldo Rivera tweeted he had spoken with Trump, who he said told him that he is a "realist" and will do the "right thing" but wanted to let the vote-certification process play out in certain states.

"He seemed like a heavyweight champion who is behind in points leading into the final round, but determined to fight on, knowing all the refs have scored the fight for the other guy," Rivera wrote Friday morning. "Still, he's going to answer the final bell, looking for the knockout he knows is a longshot."

Conservative journalist Byron York said he spoke with Trump on Thursday morning and said the president was confident about his electoral position -- but also repeated Trump's false claims about the election.

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