This weekend, as the United States could have really used some good news and leadership from the U.S. president, Donald Trump resorted to getting into a spat with a reporter at a White House press conference who asked about handshaking. MSNBC’s Kelly O’Donnell asked him about the “mixed messages” he’s been sending — after all, as all observers could easily see on camera, at a press conference announcing a national emergency declaration over the Coronavirus, Trump shook hands and even touched the microphone that speakers shared. Trump insisted to the point of cutting off O’Donnell that actually, he’s just getting out of a habit and doing just fine — although it’s worth noting that he himself has been repeatedly exposed to the virus recently. Those exposed could become carriers.
At the press conference, which Trump briefly took over from the Coronavirus response team helmed by Vice President Mike Pence, O’Donnell addressed the president:
‘Mr. President, respectfully, you’ve been sending mixed messages. We watched as you shook hands with people yesterday; you have talked about five million tests being available, even though we probably won’t need that many. Has your own sense of urgency evolved and have you been changing what you’re doing?’
Laughably, Trump claimed in response that the situation has been “urgent for me right from the beginning.”
Although it’s true that as he noted, his administration suspended travel from China, where the virus originated, what’s also true is that in the early days, Trump called concern about the situation a “hoax.” That’s not “urgency.” It’s the opposite.
O’Donnell followed up:
‘So why are you shaking hands, sir?’
And Trump explained it as some kind of immutable force of nature — or something. He commented:
‘Because it almost becomes a habit, and you get out of that habit. Frankly, I was a non-hand shaker for the most part. I never believed that shaking hands once you become a politician. And I notice it too, political people walk up to me; they want to shake my hand. I say, well – ‘
After O’Donnell attempted to interject, Trump brusquely cut her off, pompously insisting:
‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, just take it nice and easy, okay? Just relax. People come up to me; they shake hands, they put their hand out. It’s sort of a natural reflex and we’re all getting out of it — all of us have that problem. Somebody comes up to you, they put their hand out, you probably tend to just shake it — and we’re all getting out of that. Shaking hands is not a great thing to be doing, right now, I agree.’
Trump went on to also defend his repeated handling of that shared microphone from the press conference — he claimed that he did so just so that speakers of various heights could reach the mic.
The Saturday back-and-forth is not the first time that he’s gotten into it with a reporter recently over the Coronavirus response. He also recently mockingly insisted that PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor asked a “nasty question” for a simple query about his take on his administration’s recent, pre-Coronavirus decision to completely eliminate National Security Council positions for dealing with global health emergencies.