President Donald Trump held a nearly 2-hour press conference beginning at about 5:35 this evening. It was broken into two segments. The first included Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, Attorney General William Barr, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday. In the second segment he was joined by Vice President Pence, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Summary of the President’s remarks and questions:
- The President repeated his explanation as to why the social distancing guidelines are being extended for an additional 30 days. Every American will do their patriotic duty.
- There are threats that cartels, criminals, and terrorist groups will exploit our current situation. As a result, there will be enhanced narcotics operations. The US Southern Command will expand its operations, doubling its capabilities in the area.
- The President was asked what has changed to allow assets to be deployed. The President said he believes there is the ability to interdict these drugs before they reach our shores. He later said that he was working to stop not only the virus but people from trying to get into the country.
- The President was asked about intelligence reports regarding coronavirus in China. He said the numbers were “on the light side” based on intelligence reports. He went on to talk about the trade deal and the expectation that China will spend $250 billion on our products. The relationship with China is good.
- The President was asked about China selling and shipping Personal Protective Equipment., and getting a global leadership position as a result. The President said he does not mind if they are helping other countries. We will soon have more ventilators than we need even after we stockpile for future catastrophes.
- He was asked if there is any truth that we are stopping the shipment of our stockpiles through USAID to other countries. He said it is not true. Whatever we have committed we will provide. We are supplying a tremendous amount and will monitor that relative to what we need. He went on to say that we ordered a lot more from Walmart for direct shipment to our own providers.
- He was asked if he is concerned that we are losing ground on the drug crisis. The President said he is not concerned, but does not want to lose ground. We have never been so focused as we are right now.
- The President was asked about working with the Mexicans or other governments on these matters. He said that there are 27,000 Mexican soldiers on the border helping keep people out of our country.
- With respect to naval operations, the President said sailors will no longer be going into ports.
- The President was asked if the stockpile of Personal Protective Equipment is depleted. He said it is, but materials are being sent directly to those who need them. He has asked states where they have manufacturing to use local suppliers. He has to have the flexibility to move ventilators where the virus is growing. Eleven companies are making them.
- With respect to military personnel treating COVID-19, the President suggested that he is looking to build 2 new hospital ships.
- The President was asked about using Veterans Administration hospitals to treat civilians. He said they are ready if needed, but hopefully they won’t be.
- The President said military families wanting to move home or to their next deployment are on hold. He referenced the 1917-1918 pandemic and the number of deaths. We have gone from 160 million people working to having shut down the economy.
- He again spoke about a Phase 4 bill, including the $2 trillion infrastructure effort with 2% interest. He again reported his desire to restore the corporate deductibility of meals and entertainment to help restore that industry.
- The President was asked what changed his thinking about the comparison of this virus to the flu. He said it was shown to be more serious. He was seeing statistics that were not very good, and mentioned his own friend who tested positive.
- He was asked about halting flights from hot spots, which had been suggested by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-GA). The President said he is thinking about it. The flights are usually going from hot spot to hot spot. It would require shutting down an industry that is really needed.
- The President was asked about stay at home orders, and if they should be made nationwide. He repeated that states are different, and there is a need to give some flexibility. The federal government is here to help governors.
- When asked about immigrants who pay taxes potentially not getting aid, the President said it is a sad question, but they came illegally.
- The President was asked about hazard pay for health care workers. He said he liked the idea. It could be a bonus.
- The President was asked about the reuse of masks, and if the public should be wearing them. The President referenced Battelle’s work on sterilizing masks for reuse of up to 20 times. Some people do not like masks. It does not hurt, and it doesn’t have to be a mask.
Summary of the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s remarks and questions:
- There will be enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea, involving the Coast Guard, Health and Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Justice, and Intelligence agencies. Additional forces will double capabilities in the area.
- There are 22 partner nations.
- The drug activity threatens security with cocaine, fentanyl, and other substances. The task is to stop the flow of illicit drugs.
- When the President was asked what has changed to allow assets to be deployed, Secretary Esper said it was a matter of prioritization. Efforts began months ago to see where we could free up resources.
- The Secretary was asked how long this might last. He said the situation would be assessed and would go from there following a report back to the President.
- With respect to naval operations, Secretary Esper said that we will not shut down the military. There is a mission, even though there are cramped quarters. Every reasonable precaution is being taken. The job is to defend the United States.
- Secretary Esper was asked about military personnel being used to treat COVID-19. He noted the hospital ships and military hospitals. There is a need to protect the personnel, but they remain available to assist.
Summary of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley’s remarks:
- The General thanked the Coast Guard and other branches of services for their efforts. There is evidence that drug cartels were going to try to take advantage of the situation.
Summary of Attorney General William Barr’s remarks:
While there is a focus on COVID-19, national security work must go on. There is a need to destroy the Mexican cartels. Trafficking is responsible for 70,000 deaths per year. It is not just a law enforcement but a national security threat.
Summary of the National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien’s remarks and questions:
- The uncontrolled flow of drugs into the US endangers our communities.
- There is a need to counter Venezuela and the Maduro regime.
- When the President was asked if China underreported and what it means for our relations, Mr. O’Brien said there are great relations with President Xi, but the numbers cannot be confirmed.
Summary of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday’s questions:
- Admiral Gilday was asked about plans for personnel aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. He said that many personnel are already off ship. The ship, though, will remain fully operational. At this time 1,000 are off ship, and he expects that it will neb 2,700 by Friday.
- He was then asked about protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus. He said that across the fleet sailors should spread 14 days in quarantine.
Summary of the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx’s remarks and questions:
- Birx also responded to the question about widespread antibody testing, saying they are in talks with a series of universities. They have been asked to do ELISA tests in their health care centers which would help reassure their health care workers.
Summary of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s questions:
- Fauci was asked about extending the social distancing guidelines until there is some vaccine. Dr. Fauci said that when we get to a curve with no deaths it may make sense to relax those guidelines. He hopes to have a much more robust system to identify the situation. Vaccine is the ultimate solution, but Phase 2 is a few months from now.
- He was then asked at what point might there be widespread antibody testing. He said he could see a point when we get the facility to do a serosurveillance study and get important information, but that is not the focus right now.
Summary of the Vice President’s questions:
- Vice President Pence was asked about reopening healthcare.gov so that people could get health care. There has been a determination not to do that. Is there an alternative? The Vice President said that the President has made it a priority that every American knows that they can have the virus and not face a cost. Two of the top health insurance companies have said testing is fully covered and they are waving copays on all treatment. As the next piece of legislation is discussed they will be sure that these costs are covered.
- On March 9 it was said that 1 million tests had been delivered and that 4 million more would be delivered by the end of the week. It didn’t happen. Why? The Vice President said that according to HHS the tests were delivered. The difficulty is the ability to produce the results of the tests. 100,000 are being done per day. There have been 1.2 million done. They are looking to transition over to state processes.