Trump defends erroneous coronavirus predictions in wide-ranging Fox News interview

Fox News host Chris Wallace grilled Trump on a number of subjects including coronavirus, the 2020 election and his own mental acuity.
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/ Source: NBC News

President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his past misstatements on the coronavirus, saying he 'will be right eventually,' in a contentious and freewheeling interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace.

Wallace went through a number of Trump's early statements on the coronavirus, including his January remark that the virus amounted to "one person coming in from China, and we have it under control" and his comment in that February that the number of cases would soon be "close to zero." Wallace also mentioned Trump's insistence earlier this month that "at some point [the virus is] going to sort of disappear."

"I will be right eventually," Trump responded when presented with his comments. "You know I said, It's going to disappear.' I'll say it again."

Asked if being wrong before discredits him, Trump said, "It's going to disappear and I'll be right. I don't think so."

He added, "You know why? Because I've been right probably more than anybody else."

Coronavirus cases having spiked throughout the country in recent weeks, reporting a record number of new cases as well as jumps in hospitalizations. Trump downplayed the increases as "embers," though he acknowledged that Florida has become "more flame-like" and that we are seeing "somewhat of a surge in certain areas."

The president then claimed without evidence that many of the cases "are young people that would heal in a day" and that "they have the sniffles and we put it down as a test."

"Well cases are up — many of those cases shouldn't even be cases," he said, asking at one point to be shown "the death chart."

More than 141,000 Americans have so far died from the coronavirus, according to an NBC News tracker.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, responded on Trump later Sunday, saying, "The past six months have proven again and again that it's Donald Trump who doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to COVID-19."

"He said the virus would disappear. He said anyone who wants a test could get a test. He said the virus was under control. When it comes to the coronavirus, you can't believe a word he says," Biden said, adding, "Mr. President, your ignorance isn’t a virtue or a sign of your strength — it’s undercutting our response to this unprecedented crisis at every turn and it’s costing Americans their jobs and their lives."

In the interview, the president repeated his longstanding frustration with the higher levels of testing, saying, "in a way we're creating trouble." He also suggested the reason that some other countries have experienced less severe outbreaks than the U.S. is because they "don't test."

Trump also again threatened to withhold funding from schools if they did not fully open in the fall and said he would consider not signing the next coronavirus relief measure if it does not include a payroll tax cut.

On masks, Trump said he wants "people to have a certain freedom" and that "masks cause problems too," though it was unclear to what exactly he was referring. Public health experts have said wearing masks in public is one of the best tools people have to cut down on transmission of the virus.

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that he does not believe masks are “optional for people who want to protect themselves and people around them."

Trump's exchanges with Wallace on coronavirus were only the tip of the iceberg in the lengthy interview, which featured a number of eyebrow-raising moments.

Some of those exchanges centered on the Confederate flag and the re-naming of military bases named for Confederate leaders. Trump said he might veto the National Defense Authorization Act because it calls for those military bases to be renamed. The military recently effectively banned the Confederate flag on bases.

"I don't care what the military says," Trump said. "I'm supposed to make the decisions. Ft. Bragg is a big deal. We won two World Wars. Nobody even knows Gen. Bragg. We won two World Wars. Go to that community where Ft. Bragg is. It's in a great state, and I love that state. Go to the community. Say, "how do you like the idea of renaming Ft. Bragg? And, then, what're we going to name it? You're going to name it after the Rev. Al Sharpton? What're you going to name it, Chris. Tell me what you're going to name it?"

The president insisted that "when people proudly have their Confederate flags, they're not talking about racism."

"They love their flag, it represents the South, they like the South," Trump said. "People right now like the South."

He expressed disdain for The New York Times' 1619 project, which reexamines the history and legacy of slavery in the U.S.

"Where did that come from? What does it represent?" he said of the project. "I don't even know."

"It's slavery," Wallace said.

"That's what they're saying, but they don't even know," Trump responded. "They just want to make a change."

The president then got into a lengthy exchange with Wallace over his recent claim that he "aced" a cognitive test. After Trump challenged Biden to take such an exam, Wallace said he recently took the same exam as Trump and found it to be quite easy.

"They have a picture and it says 'what's that' and it's an elephant," Wallace said.

Trump pushed back, saying that was "all misrepresentation."

"Because, yes, the first few questions are easy, but I'll bet you couldn't even answer the last five questions," Trump said. "I'll bet you couldn't, they get very hard, the last five questions."

Wallace said one of the questions was to count back from 100 by seven. Trump continued to insist Wallace "couldn't answer many of the questions."

Asked about a recent book authored by his niece, Mary Trump, the president said "she was not exactly a family favorite," saying, "she ought to be ashamed of herself. That book is a lie."

The interview also touched on the upcoming presidential election. Asked what would happen if he loses to former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump said he's "not a good loser" and that he would "have to see" before accepting a potential loss.

"I’m not going to just say yes, I’m not going to say no," Trump said. "And I didn’t last time either."

The president criticized both Wallace and Fox News, saying he's "not a big fan of Fox, I'll be honest with you, they've changed a lot," hitting Wallace for his interviews with Democrats.

"Let Biden sit through an interview like this," Trump said. "He'll be on the ground crying for mommy. He'll say mommy, mommy, please take me home."

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.