Pool reporters in the room then asked questions, starting with: “Mr. President, why aren’t you going to CDC today?”
Azar interjected: “He’s actually sent me. I’m going to go down.”
But then POTUS said: “We may go. They thought there was a problem at CDC with somebody that had the virus. It turned out negative so we’re seeing if we can do it. But yesterday afternoon, we were informed that there may have been a person with the virus and they now find out that that was negative test. They’ve tested the person very fully and it was a negative test. So I may be going. We’re going to see if they can turn it around with Secret Service. We may be going.”
POTUS then took the pen used in the bill signing and threw it to a reporter. “Here Steve, this is for you after covering me so well. First time I’ve ever done that to a reporter.”
POTUS was asked how big a hit to the economy he expects from the coronavirus. He replied: “Well, job numbers just came out and they’re incredible. The job numbers were tremendous and we picked up close to 80,000 new jobs from last report. And if you add that up it’s over 350,000 jobs.
“Job numbers just came out a little while ago and they were shocking to the people that were analysing them.”
He continued: “A lot of people are staying here and they’re going to be doing their business here. They’re going to be travelling here and they’ll be going to resorts here and, you know, we have a great place. So foreign people come but we’re going to have Americans staying home instead of going and spending their money in other countries and maybe that’s one of the reasons the job numbers are so good. We’ve had a lot of travel inside the USA.”
POTUS was asked if his administration needs to take more action to diminish the risk of recession.
He said: “Well, what we can do is do what we do. We’re getting a lot of business from people staying, which I’ve always liked anyway – you’ve known that for a long time. But people are staying here and spending their money here as opposed to going to Europe and other places. Now, that’ll change when this goes away and hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
“But people, I would say virtually everybody, you saw the job numbers I guess, people were shocked because you had another 80 or whatever it is, a lot of numbers from last month where they upgraded. So the job numbers were at a level that nobody thought possible. They were really incredible.”
In response to another question, POTUS said: “We’re going to see whether or not the Fed wants to stimulate. In my opinion, they should because Europe is and China is and everybody is but us. We have a Fed that is not exactly proactive. I’m being very nice when I say that. I think what happens is the Fed should cut and the Fed should stimulate and they should do that because other countries are doing it and it puts us at a competitive disadvantage and we have the most prime. We are considered by far the most prime and it’s our dollar that everybody uses.
“The Fed should stimulate and they should cut and why should Germany have an advantage over us with interest rates? So Germany just announced that they’re stimulating and they’re cutting. Asia is, all over Asia they are, China is tremendously and we’re really not. And we pay higher interest. We have a higher rate and it’s ridiculous, frankly.
“We should have the lowest rate by far and instead we pay more than other countries. Other countries are paying zero and less than zero. You know them very well and we’re paying interest, which is a very conservative approach but it’s not a good approach because we’re also competing against other countries, whether we like it or not. Even our friends we’re competing against.”
More to follow.
Question: “So in Afghanistan, are you afraid that once the US pulls out that the Taliban will basically just overrun the Afghan government?”
POTUS replied: “Eventually counties have to take care of themselves. We can’t be there for another 20 years. We’ve been there for 20 years and we’ve been protecting the country but we can’t be there the next – eventually they’re going to have to protect themselves, you know. This should have been done a long time ago but you can only hold somebody’s hand for so long. We have to get back to running our country, too. You understand that.”
Pressed on whether the Afghan government will be capable of defending itself in the long term, POTUS said: “I’ll let you know later. We’ll have to see what happens. I hope they are but I don’t know, I can’t answer that question. It’s not supposed to happen that way but it possibly will.”
POTUS gestured towards Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, who was in the Diplomatic Room for unknown reasons. POTUS quipped: “The most powerful man in all of media. Come on. He has a little something to do with the Wall Street Journal, I don’t know if you know. This is real power, right? You used to do what they did, right? He did it so well that he’s the boss at News Corp. Of course Rupert has something to say with that, I guess; Lachlan.”
POTUS added jovially: “It’s good to have you. They treat me very nicely, the media, right, except for the Wall Street Journal, but that’s OK.”
A reporter asked how POTUS can stop people from panicking about the coronavirus. POTUS said: “I don’t think people are panicking. We did an interview on Fox last night, a town hall, I think was very good, and I said calm, you have to be calm, it’ll go away.
“We do have a situation where we have this massive ship with 5,000 people and we have to make a decision. It’s a big decision because we have very low numbers compared to major countries throughout the world. Our numbers are lower than just about anybody.
“In terms of deaths, I don’t know what the count is today, is it 11? Eleven people and in terms of cases, it’s very, very few. When you look at other countries it’s a very tiny fraction because we’ve been very strong at the borders. But then you have a ship with a lot of Americans on it, it’s 5,000 people on it, it’s a massive ship and they want to come in. So we have to make a decision. We’re working with the governor of California on it.”
POTUS was asked about meeting Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. He confirmed: “Yeah I am, we’re having dinner at Mar-a-Lago. He wanted to have dinner in Florida if that was possible. The president of Brazil. So we’ll be doing that today.”
More to follow.
[Note: Updated White House guidance says that POTUS’s visit to CDC in Atlanta today is back on.]