The influence of Donald Trump’s new adviser on the coronavirus pandemic was on full display during today’s White House briefing.
The influence of Donald Trump’s new adviser on the coronavirus pandemic was on full display during today’s White House briefing.

Trump’s controversial new virus adviser

Donald Trump is once again entirely focused on reopening the US economy, even though the country continues to record tens of thousands of coronavirus cases each day.

There have been 5.36 million confirmed infections in the United States, and 169,000 deaths. America added 54,345 new cases to its tally today, with 1386 new deaths.

And yet, Mr Trump showed up to his daily White House media briefing with one clear message - most of the country should go back to normal. The President wants schools, businesses and, for some reason, college football to resume.

"We're looking for that responsible path forward to shelter those at highest risk, while allowing those at lower risk to resume work and school and play football. Go play football," the President said.

"I spoke to some of the great football players. College players. Trevor, and a lot of great players called. Coach. Coach called. Coach O. A lot of fantastic people, I got to speak to. Athletes. Leaders. They want to play football.

"Let them play. Let them play. They feel safer on the field than they do walking around and doing nothing."

He proceeded to go off on a tangent about how players should stand for the national anthem.

This week, two of college football's largest conferences postponed their seasons due to concerns about the coronavirus. There is a push, particularly in conservative circles, to allow the sport go ahead.

Incidentally, I gather the people Mr Trump mentioned are Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Louisiana State coach Ed Orgeron.

Before we return to Mr Trump's remarks - there's a fair bit to get through - it is worth noting that he was joined at the briefing by his new coronavirus adviser, Dr Scott Atlas.

Dr Atlas, a former head of neuroradiology at Stanford University, shares many of Mr Trump's views on the virus, and has spoken out against using lockdowns to contain it.

His addition to the White House's coronavirus task force is seen as a way to counter Mr Trump's existing medical advisers, Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx, both of whom have contradicted the President publicly.

"It doesn't really matter how many cases. It only matters who gets the cases," Dr Atlas told Fox News in July, stressing that the "overwhelming majority" of coronavirus infections were in "younger and healthier people".

"It doesn't matter if you get the illness if you're going to fully recover and be fine from it. That's what people must understand. For younger, healthier people, there's not a high risk from the disease at all."

Dr Fauci and Dr Birx have warned that young people can spread the virus, even when they're asymptomatic, and can suffer long-term effects from the disease even if it doesn't kill them.

"Thinking that young people have no deleterious consequences is not true. We're seeing more and more complications in young people," Dr Fauci said around the same time as Dr Atlas's interview.

Last weekend, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stressed a similar point.

"Around the world, people who are otherwise healthy, of all ages, have died because of this virus," Mr Andrews said.

"It's a novel virus. It's called that for a reason. We don't know everything about it - how it presents, the long-term impacts.

"There is growing global evidence that this is not like a cold, where you simply get over it. There are growing numbers of people across the world who are reporting that this is lingering like a chronic condition, where there is an impact over a period of time."

RELATED: Andrews debunks myth that virus only harms old people

 

Dr Atlas has also criticised suggestions that schools should remain closed, calling them "ludicrous" and "hysteria".

This week, he said young people with no pre-existing conditions had "virtually no risk" from the virus.

"There is such fear in the community, and unfortunately it's been propagated by people doing sloppy thinking and sensationalistic media reporting," he said.

Mr Trump echoed those views at some length during today's briefing, with Dr Atlas sitting nearby.

"All Americans must continue to apply extreme vigilance in protecting our elderly population and those with chronic conditions," he said.

"Outcomes are very different for younger Americans without serious health issues. Tremendously different. They can often expect mild or moderate symptoms, or even no symptoms whatsoever. They have very strong immune systems.

"In a typical year, approximately five times as many Americans under the age of 65 die from heart disease as have so far been lost to the coronavirus from the same age group. That's an interesting statistic.

"Plus, blessedly, children appear to face the lowest risk of all. It's 99.95 per cent of all fatalities, are adults. Think of that, 99.95. That is extremely close to 100 per cent of all fatalities are adults.

"Children often have only mild symptoms and medical complications are incredibly rare. Very, very, very rare. Those that do face complications often have underlying medical conditions. In each of the last five years, the flu resulted in more deaths of those under 18 in the United States than have been lost thus far to coronavirus.

"Given these considerations, we believe many school districts can now reopen safely, provided they implement mitigation measures and health protocols to protect families, to protect teachers and to protect students."

RELATED: Sydney school accused of ignoring virus safety measures

RELATED: Scott Morrison urges teachers to return to classroom

 

Mr Trump also hyped up America's economic recovery, showing off a series of graphs comparing it favourably to other countries.

When he concluded his statement and moved to take questions from reporters, one of them used those graphs to segue into a question about coronavirus deaths.

"You had graphs about the economics of COVID. But deaths in America are still going up, whereas in Europe - right now, zero deaths in the UK, zero deaths in France," the reporter pointed out.

"Yeah, yeah, it's going up by cases, if you look at cases. And the cases are going up because we do so much testing and we find it," Mr Trump interjected.

"And I call it fake media gold. Because we do so much more testing than any other country, and when you do all that testing, you find cases."

The subject eventually shifted to politics. today the Democratic Party's newly named nominee for vice president, Kamala Harris, made her first public appearance alongside Joe Biden, during which she slammed Mr Trump on multiple fronts.

A reporter asked whether he had watched Ms Harris's speech.

RELATED: Kamala Harris makes Biden 'fight back tears'

"I watched her (during the Democratic primaries). I watched her poll numbers go boom, boom, boom, down to almost nothing. And she left angry, she left mad. There was nobody more insulting to Biden than she was," said the President.

"She said horrible things about him, including accusations made about him by a woman where she, I guess, believed the woman. And now all of a sudden she's running to be vice president, saying how wonderful he is."

In April of last year, when Ms Harris was running to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, she said she believed women who had accused Mr Biden of inappropriate touching and kissing.

"I believe them, and I respect them being able to tell their story, and having the courage to do it," she said.

Nearly a year later, in March of this year, one of Mr Biden's former staffers, Tara Reade, accused him of sexual assault. Ms Harris, who had already dropped out of the race by then, stopped short of saying she believed Ms Reade, but said she "has a right to tell her story".

"I thought it was a very unusual pick, because she said such bad things - and you know better than anybody what - you won't write it, because you know, you don't want to do that, but you know better than anybody. She said horrible things about him. Horrible things," Mr Trump continued.

"And she mocked him. Openly mocked him. That's why I thought that was a very risky pick, because I'm sure that'll be played back, not necessarily by me, but others."

The "horrible things" Mr Trump mentioned are presumably a reference to the clash Ms Harris and Mr Biden had at one of the presidential debates, during a discussion about racial issues.

"I'm going to direct this at Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," she said at the time.

"But I also believe - and it's personal, and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country."

RELATED: Who is Kamala Harris? What you need to know about her

 

I need to run through some more context here.

Ms Harris was talking about a controversial comment Mr Biden made earlier the same month, touting his working relationship with two pro-segregation senators decades ago as proof of his ability to work constructively with the other side of politics.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of American school districts implemented mandatory bussing policies, which saw students assigned and transported to particular schools in an effort to achieve a level of racial balance.

There was fierce opposition to the bussing policy from some quarters, and Mr Biden opposed the idea of a federal law mandating its implementation nationwide, arguing it was a matter for state and local governments.

"There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me," Ms Harris told Mr Biden at the debate.

"So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."

Mr Biden dismissed the attack as "a mischaracterisation of my position across the board".

"If we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights, and whether I did or not, I'm happy to do that. I was a public defender. I didn't become a prosecutor, I left a good law firm to become a public defender," he added, in a swipe at Ms Harris's former career as a prosecutor.

Beyond that exchange, it isn't clear what "horrible" things Mr Trump feels Ms Harris said about Mr Biden. He hasn't been very specific.

RELATED: Kamala Harris ambushes Biden at presidential debate

 

Continuing his answer, Mr Trump segued into an attack on some of Ms Harris's policy positions, before returning to the subject of her failed run for president.

"The other thing, if you look, she wants a $3 trillion tax hike. No fracking. How do you think no fracking is going to play in Pennsylvania? That's a big fracking state," he said.

"She wants no fossil fuels. No fossil fuels. Really? Tell that to Texas.

"And then I hear, 'Trump is only one point up in Texas.' No, they said the same thing with crooked Hillary Clinton. They said, 'Texas is in play, Trump is down in Texas.' And then I won Texas immediately, and they said, when the polls had closed, 'Trump has won Texas.' And I won by a lot. And I won Georgia by a lot. It's almost like a duplication, it's the same thing as before, except we have much more energy now than we ever had in 2016."

Not that it really matters, but for the sake of accuracy, the polling average in 2016 actually had Mr Trump ahead of Ms Clinton by 11.7 per cent, which was higher than his eventual margin of victory.

The current polling average only has him leading Mr Biden by 2 per cent in Texas, which has excited some Democrats, who think they might have a chance of claiming the Republican stronghold. Spoiler alert: They almost certainly won't.

"She wants to defund, or at least substantially reduce, money going to police departments. And you can't do that. You can't do that. It's actually got to be the opposite," said Mr Trump.

"I've been endorsed by so many police departments. I'm getting a really good one this week. Really big, really good.

"We've done a real job, and I think we're going to be really successful. I was surprised that he picked her.

"She dropped like a rock. I didn't, when I ran. I ran against 17 people, mostly governors and senators, some others - Ben Carson was very strong, very good - couple of others, but mostly governors, mostly senators. And I ran. And I went up.

"She ran and she went down to rock bottom. I don't think she got to run her first - to take a vote in the first state. So generally speaking, you don't want to pick somebody who went down. She went down.

"But she went down in a very terrible way, and she said horrible things about Biden. She said far worse about Biden than I ever did. And now she's running as vice president, so how does that work?"

Asked specifically about Ms Harris's critique of his coronavirus response, Mr Trump accused her of getting her facts wrong.

"I think that's probably one of the reasons she was a terrible candidate and was forced to leave the race. Because she got her facts wrong. You know, she's very bad on facts, she's very weak on facts," said Mr Trump.

"Just so you understand, we've done more testing than any other country in the world by far.

"We have better testing than any country in the world. They call, they want to know where do we get it, how do we get it? We have better testing. When you do as much testing us, however, as you understand, you develop more cases.

"We've done the best job of any country in the world."

Originally published as Trump's controversial new virus adviser


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