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Trump says he wasn't joking about testing slowdown: "I don't kid"

Trump to hold Arizona rally despite virus spike
Trump to address student crowd of 3,000 in Phoenix as White House officials downplay virus threat 02:55

Washington — President Trump doubled down on his recent comments about ordering his administration to slow down coronavirus testing, contradicting several White House officials who defended his remarks by claiming they were made in jest.

During a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Mr. Trump said, "When you do testing to that extent you're going to find more people, you're going to find cases. So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.' They test and they test. We got tests for people who don't know what's going on."

A White House official argued to CBS News after the rally that Mr. Trump's comments were "in jest," and Vice President Mike Pence told the nation's governors in a call Monday that the president was making a "passing observation." White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday that Mr. Trump's remarks were "tongue-in-cheek." Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told "Face the Nation" he knew of no directive from the president to slow down testing.

But when asked by CBS News' Weijia Jiang on Tuesday if he was kidding when he made those remarks, Mr. Trump replied, "I don't kid." 

While he praised the U.S. for conducting millions of tests, he said increased availability of tests is a "double-edged sword."

"One way, it shows you have cases, and in another way you find out where the cases are and you do a good job," the president said. He spoke to reporters at the White House before heading to Arizona to visit the border wall and speak at a Students for Trump rally.

Mr. Trump tweeted later on Tuesday morning that "we did a great job on CoronaVirus" and said "the Fake News refuses to acknowledge this in a positive way."

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Mr. Trump was making a "serious point."

"He was making was a serious point, and that's why he said 'I don't kid.' He was making a serious point, but he was using sarcasm to do that at the rally," McEnany said. "But the serious point he was making is that when you test more people you identify more cases. Cases should not be indicative of the progress we've made."

Mr. Trump was swiftly condemned by Democrats for his remarks on Saturday. More than 120,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, and the number of cases is increasing across the South and the West. Half of all states are now averaging more new cases each day than they have in weeks.

There are more than 54,000 coronavirus cases in Arizona, according to Johns Hopkins University. Several Trump campaign staffers tested positive for the virus before the president's rally in Tulsa.

The president's opponents have criticized him for not doing more to combat the spread of the pandemic in its early stages. Mr. Trump has praised states which have reopened their economies more quickly, including Arizona.

Dr. Mark Heinz of Tucson told CBS News that he is worried about the new cases he's seeing. "ICU beds across southern Arizona and, actually, across the state are at a very high premium at this point," Heinz warned.

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