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Trump continues to defend drug hydroxychloroquine

Washington — President Trump on Tuesday was forced to explain his continued support for hydroxychloroquine and defend his retweet of a video with medical personnel promoting the drug — a video that was removed by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for misinformation. The president, who has long touted the drug as a treatment for the coronavirus despite the Food and Drug Administration saying it isn't an effective treatment, tweeted a number of fringe videos and tweets in the last 24 hours promoting the drug. 

In a White House news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Trump suggested he's not trying to criticize Dr. Anthony Fauci, even though some of the material he retweeted attempted to discredit him. A post Mr. Trump retweeted late Monday claimed the top infectious diseases expert has "misled the American public" on matters including hydroxychloroquine. The president did, however, wonder aloud why Americans give such high ratings to Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx and not to him and his administration.

"They're highly thought of but nobody likes me. It can only be my personality," Mr. Trump said about the chasm between Americans' approval ratings for Fauci and Birx and himself.

Another of Mr. Trump's retweets included a video from a group called "America's Frontline Doctors" that promoted hydroxychloroquine as a "cure" for the coronavirus. The video was scrubbed from social media sites because it shared misinformation about COVID-19. Mr. Trump attempted to explain his promotion of the medical personnel, including supportive words for Stella Immanuel, who has espoused unscientific, bizarre claims in the past that were first reported by The Daily Beast.

A CNN reporter pressed Mr. Trump on his promotion of Immanuel's statements about hydroxychloroquine.

"The woman you said is a great doctor in that video that you retweeted last night said that masks don't work and there is a cure for COVID-19, both of which health experts say is not true," the reporter said. "She's also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they're trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious—"

"Well maybe it's a sign, maybe it's not, but I can tell you this — she was on air, along with many other doctors," Mr. Trump responded. "They were big fans of hydroxychloroquine. And I thought she was very impressive in the sense that, from where she came, I don't know which country she comes from, but she said that she's had tremendous success with hundreds of different patients. And I thought her voice was an important voice. But I know nothing about her." 

Pressed on the matter further, the president abruptly ended his news conference. 

The president's support for the antimalarial drug contrasts with a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine last month, which found that hydroxychloroquine was not effective in preventing illness from the coronavirus. Fauci, too, has stressed that clinical trials examining the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have shown it is not effective in treating COVID-19.

In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday, Fauci responded to the accusation he has been deceiving Americans.

"I have not been misleading the American public under any circumstances," he said.

Fauci said he doesn't read Twitter and reiterated his commitment to his work.

"We're in the middle of a crisis with regard to an epidemic, a pandemic," he said. "This is what I do. This is what I've been trained for my entire professional life, and I'll continue to do it."

The president began his presser Tuesday by announcing a $765 million government loan to Kodak under the Defense Production Act to help expedite the production of drugs domestically, part of the administration's goal of easing the U.S.' reliance on countries like China. The president said it's his 33rd use of the DPA.

The U.S., Mr. Trump said, will be prepared to distribute 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine once a vaccine is ready. After that, the U.S. will ready 500 million doses of the vaccine.

During his news conference, Mr. Trump claimed large portions of the country are "corona-free," although that's not accurate. He did acknowledge that parts of the country are hot spots for the virus.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, negotiations over the fourth phase of the federal coronavirus response continue. Republicans have unveiled their proposal to address the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Looming over lawmakers is the expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits for roughly 30 million Americans who lost their jobs amid the pandemic. Whether to extend these benefits and at what level has already emerged as a key sticking point in talks between Republicans and Democrats.

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