“We need the tests. They help us contain the disease and they build confidence so we can go back to work, back to school,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate health committee, told HuffPost on Tuesday.
At his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Trump appeared to suggest the U.S. would fare better in response to the coronavirus pandemic if it slowed down testing. Specifically, the president said: “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find … more cases. So I said to my people, ’Slow the testing down, please.’”
Though his top aides tried to downplay his remarks by claiming he was simply joking, Trump doubled down afterward in an interview with a Scripps News reporter.
“If we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases,” Trump said.
And in an exchange with reporters on Tuesday, the president contradicted his staff, including his press secretary, by saying, “I don’t kid.”
Trump has repeatedly made claims suggesting that less testing would mean fewer COVID-19 cases, when in fact less testing would simply mean that fewer cases would be publicly reported. The U.S. has reported over 2.3 million cases and 123,000 deaths ― and counting ― from the coronavirus.
“We have to increase our testing,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost on Tuesday.
“No. Nope. Nope,” added Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) when asked if she agreed with Trump on testing. “We’re being pretty aggressive in the state of Alaska.”
But other Republican senators suggested reporters simply didn’t understand the way Trump communicates and that he was in fact joking about coronavirus testing for some reason.
“Once again Donald Trump in his comedic way references the fact that we test more than any other country,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Tuesday.
“I don’t take him literally, I take him seriously,” Cramer added.
Testifying before a House committee on Tuesday, four top U.S. health officials ― National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and the Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir ― all said that the president had not asked them to slow down the testing.
“It’s the opposite. We’re going to be doing more testing, not less,” Fauci said.
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