During the most recent coronavirus task force briefing, President Trump and CNN’s Jim Acosta once again engaged in a contentious exchange.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: And where is Dr. Fauci?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know. But every time you ask that question — whenever he’s not here, you look, you say, “Where is he?” And you’ll say, “Is there a problem?” No problem whatsoever. Every time he’s not here — sometimes I’ll ask him to come because that’s the first question that you and a couple of others from the fake news establishment ask, is: “Where is Dr. Fauci?” We’re doing great together.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: different subject, if I may ask.
THE PRESIDENT: Except we’re covering a different subject today.
IM ACOSTA, CNN: different subject, if I may ask.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead, Jim. Try another one.
IM ACOSTA, CNN: Mr. President, you have you have said nobody could have seen this pandemic coming, but, in fact, Secretary Azar, at a biodefense summit in April of 2019, said, “Of course, the people” — “Of course, the thing that people ask, ‘What keeps you most up at night in the biodefense world?’ Pandemic flu, of course. I think everyone in this room probably shares that concern.” Your own Health and Human Services Secretary was aware that this had the potential of being a very big problem around the world, a pandemic of this nature. Who dropped the ball?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I always knew that pandemics are one of the worst things that could happen. There’s been nothing like this since probably 1917. That was the big one in Europe. It started actually here and went to Europe. Probably. I’ve heard about —
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: You’ve also said nobody could see this coming.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me. Wait a minute. Let me finish. I’ve heard about this for a long time — pandemics. You don’t want pandemics. And I don’t think he was talking about a specific pandemic. He was talking about the threat of a pandemic could happen. And it could happen. Most people thought it wouldn’t and most people didn’t understand the severity of it. This is a very severe. What’s happened is very severe. But I’d let you answer that. I assume that he was talking about the concept of a pandemic.
SECRETARY AZAR: Thank you, Mr. President. Actually — absolutely, for 15 years now, this country has had a massive effort at the federal, state, and local level of preparedness for a pandemic. Now, that largely has been, as I said in those remarks, about pandemic flu preparedness. We knew about SARS, we knew about MERS, which were earlier modifications or variants of the coronavirus. None of those achieved anything like what we’re seeing today.
But that’s why, for successive presidencies, including the leadership of President Trump, there has been a great focus on pandemic preparedness. In fact, it was just in November, I believe, that the President signed the Pandemic Flu Preparedness executive order that we have — and we have also updated the Pandemic Crisis Action Plan, which has been the playbook from which we’ve been working the Pandemic Flu Plan. Again, the action plan from which we have been working that coordinates the whole-of-government, whole-of-economy approach here.
So we’ve all been very focused on pandemic preparedness. That’s what we do.
But this particular strain of pandemic, who would — who would have known this particular strain?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: But, Secretary Azar, if you were preparing for a pandemic, if this government were preparing for a pandemic, why is it we don’t have enough masks? Why is it we don’t have enough medical equipment in this country?
THE PRESIDENT: Previous administrations gave us very little ammunition for the military and very little shelf space. Let me just tell you —
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: But you’ve been President —
THE PRESIDENT: You know it —
JIM ACOSTA, CNN: You’ve been President —
THE PRESIDENT: You know the answer.