Fact Check: Did Trump Call Coronavirus a ‘Hoax’?

March 4th, 2020 3:23 PM

Politico published an article reporting that President Donald Trump called the novel coronavirus a “hoax” in a speech Friday in South Carolina.

“Trump rallies his base to treat coronavirus as a ‘hoax,’” reads the headline.

Verdict: False

Trump referred to “politicizing” of the coronavirus by Democrats as “their new hoax.” He did not refer to the coronavirus itself as a hoax.

Throughout his speech, Trump reiterated that his administration is taking the threat of the coronavirus seriously.

Fact Check:

Politico appears to misconstrue the subject of the president’s statement, claiming that Trump “tried to cast the global outbreak of the coronavirus as a liberal conspiracy intended to undermine his first term.”

But an examination of the video and transcript show Trump actually described Democratic complaints about his handling of the virus threat as “their new hoax.”

“We have exposed the far left’s corruption and defeated their sinister schemes and let’s see what happens in the coming months,” Trump said. “Let’s watch. Let’s just watch. Very dishonest people. Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that right? Coronavirus, they’re politicizing it.”

The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has spread from China to 53 other countries, sickening 85,403 people and killing 2,924 others as of Saturday, according to the World Health Organization.

Some Democrats, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden, have criticized the administration’s response to the outbreak as rudderless and ill-prepared due to Trump’s leadership and budget cuts at the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health.

But The Associated Press called this characterization “distorted” since the agencies haven’t seen loss of funding and have a “playbook to follow for pandemic preparation” regardless of who is president.

Trump described the “politicizing” of the White House’s response to the disease as an attempt to undermine his administration, likening it to Democrats’ impeachment drive and the Russia investigation.

“They tried anything,” said Trump about a minute after his first mention of the coronavirus. “They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”

When looking at the entirety of Trump’s remarks, it appears the “new hoax” comment refers to the Democrats’ alleged “politicizing” of his response to the coronavirus threat—not the coronavirus itself.

The Hill, the Daily Beast and Slate, among other news outlets, reported that the “hoax” comment referred to Democrats’ criticism.

Slate’s headline was “Trump Slams Democrats Over Coronavirus Criticism: ‘This Is Their New Hoax,’” while the Daily Beast headline read, “Trump: Democrats’ Coronavirus Criticism a ‘New Hoax.’”

At no point in the rally did Trump directly call the novel coronavirus outbreak a “hoax” or “conspiracy.” In fact, he referred to the respiratory virus as a “public health threat” and reiterated that “we have to take it very, very seriously. That’s what we’re doing. We are preparing for the worst.”

Trump denied that he called the coronavirus a “hoax” in a Saturday press conference at the White House.

He was “referring to the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody because we’ve done such a good job,” the president said.

“The hoax is on them. I’m not talking about what’s happening here. I’m talking what they’re doing. That’s the hoax,” he said, according to NBC News.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who he placed in charge of the administration’s response to the outbreak, announced new travel restrictions involving Iran and increased travel advisories for Italy and South Korea at the press conference.

The new measures come after Washington health officials announced the first death in the U.S. from the coronavirus.

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