President Trump hit back against critics of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in an interview on what used to be one of his favorite networks, dueling with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace over policies and data.
The president took responsibility for the impact of the virus across the nation but insisted the death rate is extremely low in the U.S. and the rise in the number of cases is because of a higher level of testing than in other countries.
He refused to let Mr. Wallace describe the surge in cases and hospitalizations across the Sun Belt as an out-of-control “forest fire.”
“We’ll put out the flames. And we’ll put out in some cases — just burning embers,” said Mr. Trump. “We also have burning embers. We have embers and we do have flames. Florida became more flamelike, but it’s going to be under control.”
The president bucked news networks for ignoring the global reach of the crisis.
“It’s not just this country. It’s many countries. We don’t talk about it in the news,” said Mr. Trump. “They don’t talk about Mexico and Brazil and still parts of Europe, which actually got hit sooner than us, so it’s a little ahead of us in that sense.”
In nearly the same breath, Mr. Trump said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease scientist on the White House coronavirus task force, is an “alarmist.”
Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has sparred with other members of the White House who have said he was wrong several times throughout this pandemic.
His critics say the doctor told the president not to close off travel from China and advised early on that the public should not wear masks. He has reversed course on both issues.
“It is what it is,” Mr. Trump said. “I take responsibility always for everything because it’s ultimately my job.”
But the president said governors also were responsible for stocking up on equipment for their states and issuing social distancing policies, such as mandating masks.
Mr. Trump said he doesn’t support a national mandate on masks because he wants people to have “certain freedoms.”
During the roughly hourlong interview, Mr. Trump also clashed with Mr. Wallace about the agenda of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden. Mr. Trump said his rival wants to defund police.
Mr. Wallace called that a mischaracterization of Mr. Biden, who has not explicitly called for defunding police but supports shifting police funds to other programs that support policing objectives.
Polls show voters trust Mr. Biden more with handling the pandemic, race relations and improving the economic fallout.
A recent Fox News poll found Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump by 8 percentage points. It also showed that voters by a narrow margin, 1%, think Mr. Biden would be a better leader to improve the economy, which has typically been a strength for the president.
“First of all, I’m not losing because those are fake polls,” Mr. Trump said. “They were fake in 2016, and now they’re even more fake.”
The president also said he isn’t a “big fan” of Fox News since Roger Ailes departed the network. He said Mr. Wallace leans “towards the Democrat side,” though Mr. Wallace played clips of him asking pointed questions to former FBI Director James B. Comey and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
“I’d like to think I treat everybody the same,” Mr. Wallace told the president.
On other talk shows, Republican governors backed up the president’s approach on masks. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the regulations should be up to local leaders.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said masks aren’t needed across his state but have been mandated in 13 of the 82 counties.
“If I believe that’s the best way to save lives in my state, I would have done that a long time ago,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Democrats want stricter mask requirements.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis appeared alongside Mr. Hutchinson on ABC’s “This Week” and said masks shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Mr. Polis said Republicans have supported the mask requirement in his state.
“Masks are a ticket to more freedom,” said Mr. Polis, noting that they help businesses and schools stay open.
Many states have a record number of cases and hospital intensive care units that are nearing capacity.
The U.S. has had 3.78 million COVID-19 cases and about 142,000 deaths. The volume of cases has been rising since mid-June when states began relaxing stay-at-home orders.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Wallace sparred a bit over fatality rates. The president called his staff over with documents to rebut Mr. Wallace’s assertion that the U.S. had a higher fatality rate than many other countries.
The U.S. fatality rate is lower in comparison with the United Kingdom. The mortality rate in the U.K. is 15.3%, while the U.S. mortality rate is 3.8%, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
According to NBC News, the U.S. has an average of 69,000 new coronavirus cases per day while the average is 455 in France, 408 in Germany and 182 in Italy.
The president said other countries, including those in the European Union, are not doing as much testing as the U.S. and that’s why their case numbers are lower.
Mr. Trump said schools should reopen despite the rise in cases and that the economy is beginning to bounce back after a nationwide shutdown in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Congress is considering another stimulus package, and Mr. Trump said he wants businesses to have immunity protections from lawsuits over virus transmission. He also said he wants a payroll tax cut.
“I would consider not signing it if we don’t have a payroll tax cut,” the president said.
Turning his attention to violence in major cities across the nation, the president blamed Democratic leaders and suggested that “religion will be gone” if Mr. Biden wins the election.
He pointed to Democratic politicians keeping churches closed, even for outside services with social distancing.
Restrictions for churches, though, were initially imposed in red states. Many resulted in lawsuits. Some states have relaxed restrictions against churches, but California and others still have strict shutdown orders.
Mr. Trump blamed Democratic leadership for violence erupting in cities including Seattle, Chicago and Portland, Oregon.
“They are stupidly run,” he said, arguing that Seattle officials finally dismantled the “CHOP” autonomous zone after they heard federal agents were coming to disband it after two deaths amid the chaos. Federal agents are now in Portland combating protesters who have taken to the streets in Black Lives Matter protests.
“It’s gotten totally out of control,” Mr. Trump said. “They want to defund the police.”
Black Lives Matter protests have turned violent at times after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Protests have subsided in many cities, though unrest persists in Portland and other places.
Mr. Biden said in recent interviews that he is open to taking some funds from police and shifting them to other programs. Earlier this month, his campaign insisted he would not take money from police but would instead implement new policing policies.
Proposals on the table include more funds for summer programs, public schools, and treatments for substance abuse and mental illness.
The president also blamed Democrats for the “cancel culture” fueling the drive to tear down Confederate monuments, alter the “Star-Spangled Banner” and rename schools, roads, buildings and sports teams.
“We can’t cancel our whole history,” the president said in reference to the Civil War. “Otherwise, we will end up fighting again.
“We can’t let them change the whole meaning of what we are all about,” he added. “It’s not going to happen on my watch.”