WASHINGTON - Seven weeks ahead of the U.S. national elections, President Donald Trump is contending he has done an "incredible job" dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and minimizing the country's death toll.
Trump, campaigning in Nevada on Saturday, stated U.S. is "rounding the corner" in dealing with the coronavirus, a notion disputed by the country's leading infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci. At a political rally, Trump understated the country's world-leading death toll of nearly 194,000, saying it was "like, around 180,000."
Even as about 35,000 new infections and 1,000 deaths a day are being recorded in the U.S., Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday, "Actually falling very steadily and fast. Deaths and hospitalizations way down, and even cases down despite far more Testing than any other country in the World, by far."
Trump aides were on the defensive on Sunday talk shows on why in early 2020 he publicly downplayed the threat of the virus to Americans while he was warned privately by key intelligence aides of its significant danger, according to taped recordings of Trump recounted in journalist Bob Woodward's new book, "Rage", set for release this week.
Trump's Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, did not campaign Saturday, but said earlier that Trump misleading the public "was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people. It's beyond despicable. It's a dereliction of duty, a disgrace."
"He knew how deadly it was. He knew and purposely played it down," Biden added. "Worse, he lied."
But Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro defended the president's public posture on the coronavirus in early 2020 when he compared it to nothing much worse than the seasonal flu.
"The president is absolutely right," Navarro told CNN. "What he needed to do was be calm, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst" by attacking the virus. "That's what we did."
One of the tapes recorded Trump in early 2020 telling Woodward, "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
Navarro said, "It's a miracle what we've been doing on the vaccine." Numerous research trials of a preventative treatment are under way and Trump has held out the possibility of approval of a vaccine before Election Day, November 3.
Fauci and other health experts say a vaccine is not likely to be available until the end of the year or into early 2021.
Trump campaign aide Steve Cortes, on the "Fox News Sunday" show, credited the president with imposing partial travel bans on flights from China and Europe with curtailing the spread of the coronavirus, calling it "superb management of the virus."
Cortes said Trump did not reveal to Americans what he knew of the dangers of the coronavirus based on intelligence reports because "he didn't want to panic the country."
"What is not helpful is to tell the country there is fear," Cortes said. "He was reassuring the country at the time he was taking decisive action."
A new Fox News poll shows Biden ahead Trump by a 51-to-46% margin, less than the average of 7.5 percentage points recorded in multiple polls by the Real Clear Politics web site. Other surveys show that in some battleground states far more registered Democrats than Republicans are requesting absentee ballots.
Cortes acknowledged the absentee voting disparity favoring Biden.
"We will probably see that the president will lag until Election Day and then win very big on Election Day," Cortes said, with Democrats favoring absentee voting and Republicans in-person voting on Election Day.