Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
June 22, 2020
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:28 P.M. EDT
MS. MCENANY: Hello, everyone. This past Father's Day weekend, we saw violence across the country, but we saw scant media coverage of this violence.
Let's be clear here: The states are responsible for policing their streets. The governors, the mayors are responsible for ensuring that our streets are safe, that the American people are protected. And what we have seen is, in far too many Democrat-runs states and Democrat-run cities, we have seen violence and chaos and nothing like the law and order that we saw here in D.C. when President Trump stepped in and surged the National Guard.
In Chicago, for instance, we saw over 100 people were shot and 14 tragically killed, including a three-year-old was among the victims. And one local news outlet tragically reported that multiple teenagers were killed in Chicago this weekend as well.
In Minneapolis, 11 people were shot and one person killed. One individual was a father of two who worked as a barber and our hearts break for this family.
Also in Democrat-run New York City, we saw that the New York Post reported that there was one shooting per hour this Saturday – absolutely inexcusable – with 24 people shot on Saturday alone.
And then in Democrat-run Seattle, we've seen the autonomous zone, otherwise known as "CHOP" – C-H-O-P. One person was shot and killed in this autonomous zone run by radical anarchists. And also, we saw another shooting there yesterday as well. And the Democrat mayor of the city called CHOP, quote, "the Summer of Love," but it has been nothing of this sort, clearly, with two individuals shot, one person shot and killed.
It is the responsibility of governors to protect their states, to police their streets. The police power rests at the state level. And we expect mayors to step up and to do their job, and governors to step up and do their job in the mold of President Trump, who secured D.C. after a night of lawlessness two weeks ago.
Finally, the Defund Police movement is misguided. It will only hurt the vulnerable citizens of American cities the most. It's sad, and it is shameful.
And with that, I'll take questions. Yes.
Q Kayleigh, thank you. Has the President actually directed officials to slow down the rate of coronavirus testing?
MS. MCENANY: No, he has not directed that. And, in fact, I would note that, first, we continue to test about 500,000 per day, about half a million people per day. $1.8 billion is invested in NIH to find new testing capabilities. Any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact.
And, yeah, I would just note the extraordinary efforts of this administration: more than, at this point, 26.7 million tests, and we should be north of that.
Q So when he told us – when he said Saturday that he told his people to slow it down, what did he mean by that?
MS. MCENANY: The President was trying to expose – what the media oftentimes does is they ignore the fact that the United States has more cases because we have more testing. We are leading the world in testing, and he was pointing that out that it's a fact that the media readily ignores.
Q So what he's saying – that he told officials to – he told his people to slow down testing is not true?
MS. MCENANY: It was a comment that he made in jest. It's a comment that he made in passing, specifically with regard to the media coverage and pointing out the fact that the media never acknowledges that we have more cases because when you test more people, you find more cases.
Q Is it appropriate to joke about coronavirus when 120,000 people have died?
MS. MCENANY: He was not joking about coronavirus. I just said he was joking about the media and their failure to understand the fact that when you test more, you also find more cases.
Q Kayleigh, thanks so much. To follow up on that, has the President ever delayed the allocation of federal funding that's already been dedicated to national testing?
MS. MCENANY: No. On the contrary, the President has led the way to make us the leading country in the world on testing. In fact, the FDA has authorized 144 tests under EUAs – Emergency Use Authorizations. These include 122 molecular tests, 21 antibody tests, one antigen test. And the President has led the way in making us the world's leader when it – with regard to testing.
Q So why is the administration sitting on about $14 billion of funds that have been approved but not yet allocated?
MS. MCENANY: Well, I just mentioned the $1.8 billion at NIH that's there, and we're exploring new testing. We're leading the world in testing, and we will continue to do so.
Q And, Kayleigh, I have a question of my own: Last July, President Trump declared himself "the least racist person there is anywhere in the world." Why does he use racist phrases like the "Kung flu"?
MS. MCENANY: The President doesn't. What the President does do is point to the fact that the origin of the virus is China. It's a fair thing to point out, as China tries to ridiculously rewrite history, ridiculously blame the coronavirus on American soldiers. This is what China is trying to do. And what President Trump is saying, "No, China, I will label this virus for its place of origin."
Q That's what he's saying by using the racist phrase, "Kung flu"?
MS. MCENANY: He is linking it to its place of origin. And –
Q What does he have to say to Asian Americans who are deeply offended and worry that his use will lead to further attacks of discrimination?
MS. MCENANY: So, the President has said very clearly, it's "important that we totally protect our Asian [American] community in the U.S. and all around the world. They're amazing people, and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape, or form. They're working closely with us to get rid of it. We will prevail together. It's very important."
So it's not a discussion about Asian Americans, who the President values and prizes as citizens of this great country; it is an indictment of China for letting this virus get here.
And I would also point out that the media blames President Trump for using the terms "China virus" and "Wuhan virus," when they themselves have used these very terms. The New York Times called it the "Chinese coronavirus"; Reuters, the "Chinese virus"; CNN, the "Chinese coronavirus" on January 20; Washington Post, January 21st, "Chinese coronavirus." And I have more than a dozen other examples.
Q This is for a separate category, Kayleigh. "Kung flu" is extremely offensive to many people in the Asian American community. To be clear: Are you saying the White House does not believe it is racist?
MS. MCENANY: To be clear, I think the media is trying to play games with the terminology of this virus, where the focus should be on the fact that China let this out of their country. The same phrase that the media roundly now condemns has been used by the media. I can go more examples: "Wuhan virus," CNN said on January 22nd. And we can go on and on and on.
So, while the media wants to focus on nomenclature, the President is going to focus on action.
Q Kayleigh, the President and the Attorney General, over the weekend, offered different explanations behind the firing of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Can you clarify now why Berman was dismissed and if it was at the President's request?
MS. MCENANY: Well, I think that they were very much in sync this weekend – the Attorney General and the President. And here is what happened: The President held Mr. Clayton in very high regard and wanted to nominate him to this position in SDNY to keep him in the government as he returns to New York. Barr was working on a smooth transition, and when Berman chose to respond in the way that he did, he came to the President, and the President agreed and fired this individual, Mr. Berman, as Mr. Clayton now will, in time, get to that position.
Q But why was Mr. Berman being dismissed in the first place?
MS. MCENANY: Because Mr. Clayton wanted to go back to New York City. We wanted to keep him in government. And therefore, he was given the position at SDNY.
Q But why did the President – I have two questions. But why did the President say he wasn't involved in the firing of Geoff Berman, when the Attorney General said he – the President was the one who fired him?
MS. MCENANY: Because the Attorney General was taking the lead on this matter. He did come to the President and report to him when Mr. Berman decided not to leave. And at that point is when the President agreed with the decision of the Attorney General and the – to fire Mr. Berman and to promote Mr. Clayton.
Q But so, he was involved in it then?
MS. MCENANY: He was involved in the sign-off capacity. He was not – AG Barr was leading the way. But in the sign-off capacity, yes, the President was.
Q So my second question, on testing, is: You said the President made that comment in jest about having people slow down the testing. The Vice President just said that it was made "in passing." Peter Navarro said it was "tongue in cheek." But when the President himself was just asked by a reporter, like an hour ago, he did not say that he was just joking when he said that he told officials to slow down the testing.
MS. MCENANY: The President instead used that opportunity to extol the fact that we've done more than 25 million tests, that we're finding more people because we're doing more testing. And I would note that what the Vice President said and Peter Navarro, whether it's "in jest," "in passing," or "tongue in cheek" – those are all synonymous.
Q But why is that funny?
MS. MCENANY: Yes, Justin.
Q And I just want to note, to follow up on Weijia – you don't even have to answer this – the media has never called it the "Kung flu." Calling it a "Chinese coronavirus" and calling the "Kung flu" are very different things.
MS. MCENANY: The media – the media and your network, specifically –
Q The New York Times and CNN called it the "Kung flu"?
MS. MCENANY: The media and your network, specifically, have repeatedly –
Q They called it the "Kung flu"?
MS. MCENANY – used the term "China virus" –
Q "Kung flu."
MS. MCENANY: – and "Wuhan virus," and then gone on to deride the President as somehow using a term that they themselves have never used. So we can go through CNN's history –
Q "Kung flu" is not a medical term, Kayleigh. You know that.
MS. MCENANY: I'd be more than happy to go through CNN's history. On February 9th, you guys talked about the "Wuhan coronavirus." On January 23rd, you guys talked about the "Wuhan coronavirus." On January 22nd, the "Wuhan virus." I can write it all out for you and detail for you in an email.
Q That's not the same as calling it the "Kung flu," though, Kayleigh. You've got to admit that.
MS. MCENANY: Yes, Justin.
Q It is not the same thing as calling it the "Kung flu."
MS. MCENANY: Yes, Justin.
Q I first want to just follow on what you were just talking about with Berman. So, obviously, the President made the decision to nominate Clayton for the job, and that led to the sort of kerfuffle that we saw over the weekend.
But there is this decision to get – to remove Berman from the post before Clayton was nominated – or before Clayton was either nominated or, more importantly, confirmed. And so, I think the question is: Why did you take the Acting U.S. Attorney out of his job before there was a semi-confirmed replacement?
MS. MCENANY: Because there is an intent to put Clayton there, and so there will be interim individual – an Acting Attorney – as we work to get Mr. Clayton in that position.
Q Yeah. But, I guess, the question is: Why didn't he continue in his position until Clayton was confirmed?
MS. MCENANY: Because we are hopeful that Clayton will be confirmed. We're not leaving him there. We're putting an interim person in place. No investigation will be affected by this, as was made clear by Attorney General Barr.
Q All right, the – sorry, I wanted to ask about: The President, over the weekend, said that he didn't impose sanctions on China over the Uyghur internment camps because he was worried about his ability to negotiate the trade deal. But since the trade deal was signed in January, China, as you mentioned earlier, not only has acted in ways that you've been frustrated with on coronavirus, but the President has denounced their behavior in Hong Kong, and they've failed to live up to many of the tenets of the trade deal itself.
At the same time, the President signed an executive order on international religious liberty. So I'm wondering when, if ever, is the President actually going to sanction Chinese officials under either the original legislation or the legislation he signed last week.
MS. MCENANY: So, I'll – I'll get an update for you on that. But what I will say so far is – and you noted this in your question – that he signed legislation to hold China accountable for the treatment – for their treatment of the Uyghurs and other minorities in China.
But he also, previously, has imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials for roles in China's treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities. He's blacklisted companies that were complicit in China's treatment. He has taken strong action. But I will get back to you on that.
Q Was the President happy with the size of the crowd in Tulsa?
MS. MCENANY: The President was very pleased with the rally. I was with him. And I just have to say these media reports that he was somehow furious on the plane – there is no grounding in fact to that. I was with him on Marine One on the way there, on Marine One after. He was very – very pleased with how the rally went. And the media reporting on this prompted me to go around and ask some of my colleagues if they saw something different. And I spoke with Dan Scavino, who was in the Beast with the President right after the rally and said he was very energized having been around the American people.
So he is quite pleased with how the rally went. And even a political pundit wrote to him that it was one of the all-time great speeches they'd ever heard. We saw him expose his own humanity when he described the wonderful West Point story. The speech made his message so clear and compelling that no one could possibly have missed it. And it was so great to be out of the swamp and in the country. And those comments are how the President feels, too.
Q And are you going to do any – make any changes to these events, like have more outdoor events, where people aren't clumped together, or any – what's been talked about?
MS. MCENANY: So, on the note of future rallies, I'd refer you to the campaign.
Q Thanks so much, Kayleigh. I wanted to ask, on the coronavirus: Who is the most senior person, at this time, who is focused full-time on coronavirus with no other duties – simply coronavirus? Who would that person be? And what type of – what type of authority does this person have to spend U.S. resources?
MS. MCENANY: So, in the Trump administration, we're quite good at doing two things at once. We're expected to do many things at one time.
The Vice President is continuing to lead the task force. They meet regularly. Dr. Fauci is there. Dr. Birx is there. Dr. Redfield is there. They're regularly talking to governors. They had a governor's call today. The President is regularly briefed about the state of coronavirus and is regularly involved in decision-making as we move forward.
Q But is there a – is there a specific person who is focused on this full-time, with no other duties?
MS. MCENANY: A lot of people are focused on this full-time.
Q Well, who is the most senior person? Who would that be?
MS. MCENANY: Dr. Redfield, Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci – all of our experts are involved. The Vice President leads the task force each and every day.
But we do many things at once in this administration, and we've done quite a good job with coronavirus. And it's – we're pleased to see that – it's a tragedy anytime a life is lost to coronavirus, but we are pleased to see that, yesterday, for the first time, there were under 300 fatalities.
So we are trending in the right direction. We're aware when there are rises here and there. And those embers, we are equipped to go in, to handle, to put out, and to save as many lives as possible.
And thanks to President Trump – could have lost 3 million lives, but we lost far fewer because President Trump took action early.
Q Kayleigh, two on Venezuela. But, first, I just wanted to follow up very quickly on Weijia's question and Kaitlan's follow. Does the President regret using the term "Kung flu," regardless of the fact that media organizations, including my own, had, early on, described the virus as the "Wuhan virus"? That is a different thing than saying "Kung flu." Does the President regret using that term?
MS. MCENANY: The President never regrets putting the onus back on China – pointing out that China is responsible for this and, in the process, standing up for U.S. troops who are being blamed by China in a campaign of misinformation.
Q And on Venezuela: Who does the President consider to be the legitimate leader of Venezuela? And is he still interested, in any form, in meeting with President Nicolás Maduro?
MS. MCENANY: I'm very glad you asked this question. The President tweeted today that, "Unlike the radical left, I will always stand against socialism and with the people of Venezuela. My [administration] has always stood on the side of freedom and liberty, and against the oppressive Maduro regime." Nothing has changed. He continues to recognize Juan Guaidó as the leader of Venezuela.
Q Does he reject the characterization in John Bolton's book that he once said it would be "cool" to engage Venezuela?
MS. MCENANY: John Bolton has completely discredited himself. Multiple senior administration officials are on the record exposing his lies, and even the media seems to have taken note of John Bolton and how ridiculous some of the things he said. The reviews that his book have gotten – has gotten have been rightly – right on in the media.
The media said that this book is "exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged," "bloated with self-importance" – that was the New York Times. The New Yorker said, "He takes an inflated view of himself and a willingness to blame others for just about everything." The Federalist talked about the numerous serious factual flaws, which have been underlined as being false by Pompeo, Lighthizer, and others, who have all come out and said that this book is full of mistruths about themselves and about others in this administration and certainly about the President.
Q But does he claim that that was untrue then? Bolton –
MS. MCENANY: Yes.
Q Kayleigh, thank you very much.
MS. MCENANY: Yes.
Q Does – I wanted to go back to the SDNY and Berman. Was Geoffrey Berman fired because of investigations that he had overseen into President Trump's associates, including Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen? Was he fired because he had overseen those investigations?
MS. MCENANY: No, he was not. And as I noted earlier and AG Barr noted, this will not disrupt the cases being handled by the district, which will proceed as normal.
Q But is the President and the White House not at least concerned about the appearance of impropriety in the firing, given that those cases were being handled in his office?
MS. MCENANY: The administration has very clearly outlined the reason that he is leaving, and it is because Mr. Clayton will be moved into that role.
Q Thanks, Kayleigh. Is the White House concerned about the fact that coronavirus cases are now rising on a national basis, after having plateaued? And does that require any new federal action?
MS. MCENANY: I think it's a very important question you're asking, and what I would note is: The fatality numbers, we're pleased to see that number coming down.
I would also point out that Dr. Birx said to me that a higher number of these cases are less severe cases per positive than at the beginning of this pandemic because what's happening is, because of our extraordinary work with testing, we're able to identify cases in the community before they develop symptoms and are in a hospital. So instead of identifying cases in hospitals, we're identifying them in the community, which is a really good and positive development. And we are equipped to handle when we see these embers that have occurred.
Q Hi. Thank you, Kayleigh. I have two quick questions. The first is on: The President has attacked the move to remove confederate statues across the country. He said that they were – it was an assault – on quote, "our heritage." What does the White House and the President say to Americans who find it offensive to glorify people who owned other Americans, including enslaved African Americans?
MS. MCENANY: So, I would note on statues that what we're seeing across the country is really quite confusing, because you're seeing statues defaced, like Gandhi's statue defaced and Ulysses S. Grant's statues –
Q My question was on Confederate statues.
MS. MCENANY: – defaced and abolitionist Matthias Baldwin's statue defaced. At the same time –
Q My question is on Confederate statues.
MS. MCENANY: – we're being told that George Washington's statue needs to come down and Thomas Jefferson's statue needs to come down. Where do you draw the line, you know, from Gandhi, all the way down to George Washington?
And it seems the American people very much agree with the President on this, on not bringing down these statues. Less than a third of those polled, according to Morning Consult, think these statues should be taken down; 61 percent oppose it. According to Marist, 62 percent – according –
Q Are you going to answer the question about what you say to Americans who are offended by them?
MS. MCENANY: – according to Marist.
So I would point that out and I would say that, when people watch these statue defacements and the beheading of some of these statues, like Christopher Columbus, where do you draw the line? Because apparently the line goes all the way to Gandhi.
Q So this means – and then my second –
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q Sorry, my second question is: Going back to the issue of "Kung flu," I spoke to Kellyanne Conway in March. She said that it was "highly offensive" and "wrong" to use that term. Does the President agree with Kellyanne Conway? Or is he now saying that that term is not highly offensive and wrong? Because again, that was Kellyanne Conway's own words, saying "Kung flu" is wrong.
MS. MCENANY: The President does not believe that it's offensive to note that this virus came from China and to stand up for our U.S. military –
Q It's not noting that it came from China. It's "Kung flu."
MS. MCENANY: – who China is making an active effort to completely defame, and that is unacceptable to the President.
Q So, you're okay –
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q Thank you, Kayleigh.
Q Again, just to go back to what I said on –
Q On John Bolton's book –
Q – as I said on Kellyanne Conway, she said that it was "wrong" and "offensive." Are you saying that she was wrong to say that?
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q Are you saying that she was wrong to say that?
Q Kayleigh, on John Bolton and his book: If he goes unprosecuted, does the administration feel that this would set – or does it fear that this would set a precedent or embolden public servants to violate their oaths to this nation for political purposes?
MS. MCENANY: Absolutely, that's a concern. Look, the information in John Bolton's book was classified information, as confirmed by the most senior national security and intelligence officials.
And, look, you have NSA Director Nakasone saying that this could cause permanent loss of a valuable source – intelligence source – and damage to the U.S. intelligence system; DNI Ratcliffe saying virtually the same. You have another government official saying the "unauthorized disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to enable foreign threat actors."
This is the seriousness with which we look at this book and the NSC looks at this book as they scan it for classified information. There is real damage that can be done. And for what? For self-promotion and publicity of a failed NSA Director.
Q On Venezuela, also: Can I ask about Maduro and Guaidó? Why has President Trump seemed to have lost confidence in Juan Guaidó?
MS. MCENANY: He has not lost confidence at all, and that tweet that I read to you very clearly says that – that the President put out this morning. We stand with the Venezuelan people in their fight for freedom.
And I would also note how tough this President has been on Maduro, by recognizing Juan Guaidó. And when you compare that to the Obama-Biden administration, you had the former Vice President, Joe Biden, who actually met with the Venezuelan dictator, Nicolás Maduro, and complimented his hair, according to Yahoo News. "If I had your hair, I'd be President of the United States," the former Vice President said. And also the Obama State Department helped stabilize the Maduro regime by blocking sanctions, according to a 2017 Miami Herald report.
So when you compare the actions of this President, we've stood against socialism and on the side of freedom.
And finally, one thing that I just want to point out that was handed to me – wow, a whopping 7.7 million total viewers turned – tuned into Fox News to watch the rally on Saturday night. Big numbers.
Thanks so much guys.
1:50 P.M. EDT
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