As the Coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the U.S. and the economic costs of public health responses keep piling up, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared this weekend on ABC’s This Week, where he offered what turned out to be outlandish, rapidly shifting defenses of the president’s response to the crisis. Although Trump’s address was broadcast to the nation, Mnuchin even claimed that Trump was actually perfectly clear in an Oval Office speech last week when he claimed that cargo shipments from Europe would be banned, although they will actually not be banned.
Host Jonathan Karl commented:
‘The president said several things: he said that cargo would be banned coming in from Europe, he failed to mention that American citizens would not be subject to the ban… these were all false statements. How in a Oval Office address do statements about the president’s own proposals end up being wrong?’
Mnuchin did not actually initially answer the question. Instead, he commented:
‘As it relates to the Oval Office address, the president was very clear, he wanted to address a very important point, which was he made the decision to shut down travel so that we shut down more cases coming in. He wanted to reassure the American public — I don’t think in an Oval Office address, you can address every single issue as you’re discussing it.’
Observers weren’t asking the president to address “every single issue.” Did seriously no one in his inner circle foresee the problem of him announcing a travel ban without clarifying that American citizens would be exempt? Perhaps not, because hours-long lines have been reported at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, which is one of those set up to receive returning Americans.
Karl eventually pressed Mnuchin about the points that Trump got brazenly wrong. He asked:
‘How does he get things wrong about his own proposals?’
Mnuchin replied, incredulously:
‘I don’t think he got things wrong at all… We were very clear that people misinterpreted the comment on cargo, and we immediately put out a statement to clarify that.’
Here’s Steve Mnuchin blaming Trump’s mistaken claim about banning cargo from Europe that the White House had to immediately walk back on listeners: “We were very clear that people misinterpreted the comment on cargo.” pic.twitter.com/kRFtOjdoIc
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 15, 2020
It’s not listeners’ fault! Trump said — and this is a direct quote:
‘These prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.’
And yet, Mnuchin has the gall to say that Trump was actually perfectly clear from the get-go.
Karl also asked him about Trump’s incessant praise for the stock market — which he only seems to notice when its on an upswing. The host asked:
‘Is it kind of odd to hear the president talk about how great the stock market is doing when we are by any definition in a bear market?’
Mnuchin insisted in reply:
‘Well, the president is focused on the stock market, because it’s just one indication of the economy that gives people confidence. And I think what you saw is the stock market reacted very positively to the bipartisan bill, to also the fact that we’re ramping up testing dramatically.’
Incredibly, just moments later, when Karl brought up the stock market drop after the president’s bungled Oval Office speech, Mnuchin did a complete turnaround, commenting:
‘The stock market is gonna go up; it’s gonna do down — we can’t focus on every day the move.’
These are the folks in charge of Coronavirus response. How reassuring!