The student interjected: “Did you not admit to it yourself?”
“With China, I put a ban on. With Europe, I put a ban on. We would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on,” Trump said. “We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on — whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important.”
Back in February, Trump admitted to Woodward that he wanted to minimize the threat posed by coronavirus to avoid panic, even though he acknowledged to the veteran Washington Post journalist the lethal effects of the virus and easy contagion. The Post earlier this month published excerpts from recordings of more than a dozen interviews between the two.
Since February, Trump has publicly cast doubt on recommendations from his own health experts, comparing the disease to the seasonal flu. For months, he declined to wear a mask in public events and has recently restarted campaign rallies in enclosed spaces — much to health experts’ chagrin.
Trump has also called for reopening vast swaths of the country, contending that keeping people in lockdown was a greater risk than the virus that has claimed the lives of almost 200,000 people in the U.S. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and Latino Americans.
Trump’s pivot to his early travel ban from China and parts of Europe has become his default defense when faced with criticism of his coronavirus response. When pressed by Stephanopoulos on whether he regretted any part of his handling of the pandemic, Trump said: “No. I think we did a great job.“
Another town hall participant confronted Trump on his “Make America Great Again” motto, pointing out that for many African Americans who have historically faced injustices because of racism, “we cannot identify with such greatness.” He confronted the president for declining to acknowledge that there is a “race problem in America,” a remark that caused the president to pause.
“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said. “I can tell you there’s none with me, because I have great respect for all races.”
Trump then repeated familiar lines on race issues, saying that under his administration, African Americans have had the lowest unemployments rates in history.
Both the participant and Stephanopoulos pointed out that income inequality has been growing during his presidency, and that many Black workers have been earning less than a living wage. But Trump refused to concede the point, blaming the coronavirus pandemic for the growing inequality.
“Had we not been hit by this horrible disease that came into our land, and all over the world by the way,” Trump said, “we would be in a position where I think income inequality would be different. It was really getting there. We were really driving it down.”
The president also responded to questions on police reform, particularly in light of anti-racism protests that have sprung up in cities across the nation following numerous high-profile episodes of police brutality this year. Trump squarely repeated his platform of support for the police, excoriating what he called “Democrat cities“ for not standing by their law enforcement agencies.
Trump has often dismissed violent clashes between protesters and police in several large cities as the fault of local leadership, deriding officials in Chicago, New York and Portland, Ore. After a string of attacks against the large cities during his town hall, Stephanopoulos reminded Trump that he was president of the entire country — including its blue urban centers.
“Why do you keep talking about Democrat states, Democrat states?“ Stephanopoulos said. “They‘re American states, American states.“
“They have things that the Republicans don’t have,” Trump responded. “So they are — I mean, I don‘t want to say — look, I‘m the president of everybody, but — I don‘t want to say it, but they‘re Democrat-run cities. It is what it is.“