President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday that he was "right" that states did not need as many ventilators as they requested amid the coronavirus pandemic, in part because he saw the numbers discussed on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.
Trump told Hannity that he was "right" that states are "not needing nearly as many beds as they thought. They're not needing as many ventilators as they thought."
"In fact, I just saw on your show — and a couple of other people just reported back to me — that everyone is in great shape from the standpoint of ventilators, which are very hard because they are expensive, and they're big, and you know, they are very high tech," Trump added. "But they are very hard to get, and we are building thousands of them. And we have that in good shape."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for 30,000 ventilators last month, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged Wednesday that the nation's hardest-hit city has thus far only required about a third of the ventilators initially projected. Early-hit states like California and Washington have sent hundreds of ventilators to other states after seemingly flattening the curve of the trajectory the pandemic.
But hospitals all over the country are still dealing with shortages, and officials in at least a half-dozen states claim that the federal government had hijacked shipments of medical equipment they bought without informing them.
Trump's insistence that he was "right" comes after he lashed out over a Health and Human Services inspector general report highlighting severe shortages around the country. Governors across the U.S., including Republicans in Maryland and Massachusetts, have repeatedly criticized Trump after the federal government failed to respond to their needs. A CNN poll published Wednesday shows that 55% of Americans believe the federal government has done a poor job responding to the pandemic.
Trump told Hannity that he believes the country is already looking at reopening the economy in the near future as the U.S. recorded its highest daily death toll yet. The U.S. now has nearly 400,000 confirmed cases and nearly 13,000 deaths.
"I'd love to open with a big bang, one beautiful country and just open," Trump said. "We're looking at two concepts. We're looking at the concept where you open up sections, and we're also looking at the concept where you open up everything."
Trump's comments came hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged caution at Tuesday's White House coronavirus task force briefing.
Fauci said that he "fully" expects schools to be able to reopen by the fall but warned it would be "different," because the new coronavirus would not disappear without a vaccine. Fauci was less optimistic when asked whether kids would be able to attend summer camp or summer school.
"If 'back to normal' means acting like there never was a coronavirus problem, I don't think that is going to happen until we have a situation where you can completely protect the population," he said. "But when we say getting 'back to normal,' we mean something very different from what we're going through right now. Cause right now — we're in very intense mitigation. When we get back to normal, we will go back gradually to the point where we can function as a society."
Trump, meanwhile, used Tuesday's task force briefing to dismiss concerns over his firing of the inspector general overseeing the coronavirus relief fund and attack the World Health Organization.
"We're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we're going to see," Trump said as the organization responds to a pandemic. He claimed that the agency was "very China-centric" and "always err on the side of China."
Minutes later, Trump denied that he ever said he could freeze the organization's funding.
"Yes, you did," a reporter replied.
"No, I didn't," Trump insisted.
Trump also used the briefing to defend Wisconsin Republicans forcing an in-person primary election during the pandemic and spread conspiracy theories about Democrats and mail voting.
"Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they're cheaters," Trump claimed, even though the only recent evidence of mail ballot fraud was by Republicans in North Carolina. "They collect them, and they get people to go in and sign them. And then they have forgeries in many cases — it's a horrible thing."
When a reporter pointed out that Trump had recently voted by mail in Florida's election, he insisted that he was "allowed."
"I can vote by mail, because I'm allowed to," he said. "Because I happen to be in the White House, and I won't be able to go to Florida to vote. Let me just say, there's a big difference between somebody that's out of state and does a ballot and everything ― sealed, certified and everything else. You see what you have to do with the certifications."
Election experts rejected Trump's claim, noting that many states already largely rely on mail voting.
"As with in-person voting, the threat [of fraud] is infinitesimally small," Matthew Harwood of the New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, said. He added that "much of the country now votes by mail."
Trump previously told Fox News that he opposed mail voting, because if the country had high levels of voting, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."
A Reuters poll published this week shows that 72% of Americans, including 65% of Republicans, support voting by mail to protect voters from the coronavirus.
While Trump used the briefing to spin wild conspiracy theories, Fauci repeatedly sought to highlight a troubling trend in the coronavirus statistics. Fauci pointed out that although African-Americans are not more susceptible to being infected they make up a "disproportional" number of coronavirus deaths.
Fauci said the reason was that the virus shined a "very bright light" on existing health disparities that long preceded the virus. African-Americans have long had higher rates of heart disease, asthma, diabetes and other underlying health conditions that can exacerbate the coronavirus symptoms.
Though data from many states is limited, the "underlying reason why that is happening does not change from state to state."
"So when all this is over — and as we said, it will end, we will get over coronavirus — but there will still be health disparities," he said, "which we really do need to address in the African American community."