President Trump told a voter he did not downplay the coronavirus in the early days of his administration’s Covid-19 response — though he’s been heard on tape saying he did — during an ABC News town with undecided voters on Tuesday.
“If you believe it’s the president’s responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities,” a voter asked Trump.
Trump responded, “Yeah, well I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways I up-played it in terms of action.” The voter appeared to try to follow up and remind the president he acknowledged downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic in a taped interview with journalist Bob Woodward earlier this year.
The town hall, hosted by George Stephanopoulos in Philadelphia, is one of the rare occasions Trump has sat down for questions with a news network other than Fox News. It is also one of the few moments the president has had to interact with undecided voters in a moderated setting.
Trump is in a bare-knuckled re-election battle against former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, while his poll numbers sagging as he continues to get low marks from voters for how he handled the response to the virus.
Trump’s about-face on his administration’s coronavirus response comes as taped interviews with journalist Bob Woodward were recently released in which the president acknowledged downplaying the threat, according to an account of Woodward’s new book.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said in a March 19 call with Woodward, according to an audio clip posted Wednesday on The Washington Post’s website. The newspaper obtained a copy of the book, “Rage,” which was released this week.
In the same interview, Trump also acknowledged that the disease was more deadly than he publicly admitted.
“Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older,” Trump said, according to an audio clip, and then added, “young people, too, plenty of young people.”