Trump touts virus testing policy that does not exist

Casual misstatements of fact further undermine the credibility of a president who didn't have credibility to spare.
Image: President Trump Departs White House For Pennsylvania Town Hall
President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on March 5, 2020.Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

In remarks to reporters at the White House yesterday, Donald Trump inexplicably bragged about the coronavirus testing underway in the United States. "[F]rankly, the testing has been going very smooth," the president boasted. He added, "[W]e've done a good job on testing."

No fair-minded observer could possibly agree with such an assessment, especially since we're testing the smallest percentage of our population of any developed nation in the world. Indeed, around the same time as Trump made these comments, the NIH's Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the current system of failing has been "failing" and officials should "admit it."

But that wasn't the only relevant detail that Trump flubbed yesterday. As part of the same Q&A with reporters, the president was asked about his new policy on flight restrictions from Europe, which won't apply to Americans returning home from abroad. A reporter noted, "Can't an American still bring back coronavirus?" Trump replied:

"Sure. But we have them very heavily tested. If an American is coming back or anybody is coming back, we're testing. We have a tremendous testing set up where people coming in have to be tested."

This may have sounded vaguely reassuring, and the president delivered these comments with great confidence, as if he were certain in his response. That's a shame: as Rachel noted on the show last night, the policy Trump described is "not true at all."

A New York Times piece added overnight, "The president claimed that anyone who wanted to board a flight to the United States must first test negative for the virus, although there is no such policy."

I'm always curious in situations like these how and why Trump managed to get something like this so terribly wrong. Did he simply invent a policy that he thought sounded good and present it as if it were real? Did someone tell him such a policy exists? Did he see something via conservative media he didn't fully understand?

Whatever the explanation, such casual misstatements of fact -- during a crisis, about matters of public health -- further undermine the credibility of a president who didn't have credibility to spare.