Washington — President Trump's suggestion during aSaturday night that he directed his administration to curb coronavirus testing was quickly denounced by Democrats. Top members of his administration claimed the comments were made in jest.
The remark came during a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mr. Trump's first stop on the campaign trail sincebrought the 2020 campaign to a screeching halt in early March.
"When you do testing to that extent you're going to find more people, you're going to find cases," Mr. Trump said."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."
The president called testing a "double-edged sword," since more tests leads to the discovery of more cases. The argument that the recent surge in cases in some parts of the country can be fully explained by an increase in the availability of testing has been refuted by public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.
But he doubled down on the sentiment early Monday, tweeting, "Our Coronavirus testing is so much greater (25 million tests) and so much more advanced, that it makes us look like we have more cases, especially proportionally, than other countries. My message on that is very clear!"
Democrats swiftly seized on Mr. Trump's comments after the Tulsa rally and accused the president of attempting to keep the number of cases artificially low for his own political gain.
"Speed up the testing," former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, tweeted Saturday night.
Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Biden's campaign, said in a statement that Mr. Trump's comment was "outrageous" and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic "catastrophic mismanagement."
"This virus has killed nearly 120,000 Americans and cost tens of millions their jobs, in large part because this president could not and would not mobilize testing as quickly as we needed it," Bedingfield said. "To hear him say tonight that he has ordered testing slowed — a transparent attempt to make the numbers look better — is appalling."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned Mr. Trump's comments in Tulsa and called him "ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared to lead."
"The president's efforts to slow down desperately needed testing to hide the true extent of the virus mean more Americans will lose their lives," the California Democrat said in a statement.
Senator Elizabeth Warren similarly noted the 120,000 lives lost because of the coronavirus pandemic and said the lack of a national testing strategy is a "deadly failure."
"120,000 Americans are dead from the worst pandemic in a century, & the President said tonight that he slowed down testing so the public death toll wouldn't be worse," she tweeted.
But the president's top aides defended his remarks about coronavirus testing, claiming he was joking, despite his lack of levity when delivering the remark.
"Come on now, that was tongue-in-cheek, please," White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "I know it was tongue in cheek. That's news for you, tongue in cheek."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Mr. Trump's comments were borne out of frustration with the media, and that he knew of no directive from the president to slow down testing.
"What you heard from the president was frustration, frustration in the sense of that we are testing, I believe we've tested over 25 million Americans," heon "Face the Nation." "We've tested more than any other country in this world. Instead, the press and others, all they want to focus on is an increasing case count. And we know that that's going to occur when you test individuals more and more and more."
As the number of people infected with the coronavirus began to swell in mid-March, the Trump administration came under scrutiny for lacking a national testing strategy and failing to support states as they ramped up their testing capabilities.
There have been more than 2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., and the death toll is nearing 120,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.