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At COVID-19 briefing, Trump claims his authority is "total" and plays campaign-like video touting response

Trump battles with governors over reopening economy
Trump battles with governors over reopening the economy 02:47

Highlights from the briefing: 

  • Trump said White House staff compiled campaign-style video 
  • Trump said the authority of the president is "total"
  • Trump said he's forming various commissions on restarting the economy
  • Trump said everything his administration did was right
  • Pence said antibody test could be approved by FDA within days
  • Roughly 3 million tests have been conducted nationwide 
  • Fauci said the virus turned out to be "much worse than I thought it would be"

The White House played a campaign ad-like video in Monday's Coronavirus Task Force Briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, criticizing the media, touting the administration's coronavirus response, and playing clips of governors praising the Trump administration. In the same briefing minutes later, the president claimed his authority as president of the United States is "total," and governors should know that. 

The video testimonial came after the New York Times published a blistering story outlining early failures in the administration to get a handle on the virus and on testing. The report portrayed the president as having not immediately grasped the seriousness of the potential crisis ahead. Mr. Trump blasted the New York Times by name. 

Asked about the video, Mr. Trump confirmed his own White House staff, including White House social media director Dan Scavino, compiled the video in the last two hours before the briefing. As Monday's briefing continued, the president seemed to become increasingly defiant, insisting that his administration has combated the virus flawlessly.

"Everything we did was right ..." Mr. Trump said, in defending his administration's response to the novel coronavirus, which has rapidly transformed American life and killed more than 23,000 Americans so far.

Trump questioned on coronavirus response 02:39

The president said his administration will soon be releasing guidelines for states on how they can begin to reopen their economies. Mr. Trump insisted on Twitter Monday morning that the decision to reopen the economy ultimately rests with him, although constitutional scholars say that authority lies with governors. Pressed by reporters about the delineation of authority between the states and the federal government, Mr. Trump claimed his authority is "total."

"When someone's the president of the United States, the authority is total," he claimed, despite constitutional delineations of power.  

When Vice President Mike Pence was asked if he agrees with the president's assessment that his authority is total, Pence skirted answering the question directly, saying he supports the president's authority under the national emergency declaration. 

Attorney Jonathan Turley, one of the Republican witnesses during the impeachment investigation and a CBS News contributor, said the Constitution was written "precisely" to "deny that particular claim." 

"Pres Trump stated that 'When somebody is President of the United States, his authority is total.' The Constitution was written precisely the deny that particular claim. It also reserved to the states (& individuals) rights not expressly given to the federal government," Turley wrote on Twitter

Mr. Trump said he's forming a number of commissions that will deal with topics including transportation and religion, getting their input and recommendations on how to restart the economy. 

Pence offered some promising news during the briefing. The antibody test could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration within days. 

Early on in the briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci sought to clarify comments he made on Sunday about whether or not more lives could have been saved if the Trump administration had undertaken mitigation efforts earlier.

"You could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives," Fauci told Jake Tapper on CNN's "State of the Union," a statement that some interpreted as criticism of the president. He also said that "there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then." 

On Monday, at the Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Fauci recalled "the nature of the hypothetical question" about earlier mitigation and reiterated that, "yes, obviously, mitigation helps," and "if mitigation works and you instigate it and initiate it earlier, you probably would have saved more lives. If you initiate it later, you probably would have lost more lives.""That was taken as a way that maybe something was at fault here," he said. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told "Face the Nation" in an interview Sunday that an economic recovery that comes before a health care recovery "could be throwing gasoline on the fire." Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there cannot be a reboot of the economy until health care controls including widespread testing and contact tracing are in place.

"We've got to see not just a flattening of the curve, but a bending down," Lightfoot said on "Face the Nation."

Mr. Trump told reporters Friday he wants to reopen the economy "as soon as we can" and during an interview with Fox News on Saturday said he would base his decision on the advice of "a lot of professionals, doctors and business leaders."

"It's going to be based on a lot of facts and instincts," he said.

In the U.S., there have been more than 682,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and the death toll has surpassed 23,500, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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