Donald Trump has been accused of using another White House coronavirus task force briefing to broadcast a “campaign ad” in which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of his most trenchant critics, appeared to shower him with praise.
The US president dimmed the lights and played two selectively edited videos on screens behind the briefing room podium featuring Cuomo, whose state has been hardest hit by the deadly pandemic.
“What the federal government did, working with states … was a phenomenal accomplishment,” the governor said in the first clip. “These were just extraordinary efforts and acts of mobilisation, and the federal government stepped up and was a great partner, and I’m the first to say it. We needed help and they were there.”
But the films were played just two days after Cuomo, who has emerged as one of the most prominent Democrats during the crisis, eviscerated Trump in scathing 15-minute remarks. “First of all, if he’s sitting home watching TV, maybe he should get up and go to work, right,” he told reporters on Friday. “Second, let’s keep emotion and politics out of this and personal ego if we can because this is about the people and our job and let’s try to focus on that.”
Related: New York mayor De Blasio asks if Trump is telling city to ‘drop dead’ over Covid-19
Cuomo acknowledged that Trump had moved quickly to increase hospital capacity, but said he was wrong to claim the city’s Javits Center, a convention facility converted to a hospital, had not been used, pointing out that 800 people had gone through. The projected number of patients “were the president’s projections”, he added.
Exasperated, Cuomo went on: “The president doesn’t want to help on testing. I said 11 times, I said the one issue we need help with is testing. He said 11 times: ‘I don’t want to get involved in testing, it’s too complicated, it’s too hard.’ I know it’s too complicated and too hard. That’s why we need help. I can’t do an international supply chain.
“He wants to say: ‘Well I did enough.’ Yeah, none of us have done enough. We haven’t, because it’s not over … We have a lot more to do and no one can do the posture of ‘Just say thank you for what I’ve done, and I’m now out, I’m not doing anything else. I’ve done my part.’”
The pair of New Yorkers exchanged barbs on Twitter but, at Sunday’s briefing, Trump was only eager to bask in Cuomo’s praise. After the first video was shown, he chided his staff: “They left out the good part. Good job, fellas … You want to put the rest of it up, or do you not have it?”
He added: “I just think it’s so good for people because it’s bipartisan. This is not about Democrats, Republicans. This is about a thing that hit our country, the likes of which has never happened to us before.”
The second clip was duly played later in the briefing. And earlier Trump had read aloud from a Wall Street Journal column praising him. A CNN reporter asked, with more than 22 million Americans unemployed and the death toll now above 40,000, “is this really the time for self-congratulations?”.
Trump retorted: “You’re CNN, you’re fake news … You don’t have the brains you were born with.”
Media reports suggest Trump is ready to transition from crisis mode to a new phase focused on economic recovery and his re-election.
For his part, Cuomo issued two pointed tweets on Sunday evening. One said: “‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.’ — Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.” The other thanked health care, hospital and nursing home workers, and said: “You are heroes. #NewYorkTough.”
Trump’s publicity stunt also drew direct criticism. Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, tweeted: “Beyond being another taxpayer-funded campaign ad, this video clip also makes Trump look exceedingly weak. The video casts Cuomo as Trump’s boss giving him a performance appraisal. (If only!).”
The president also sought to downplay the national testing shortage, despite governors’ complaints that they lack sufficient capacity to safely reopen their economies. And he became visibly angry when questioned why he had still been holding campaign rallies in February rather than warning Americans about the virus.
Challenged repeatedly by Weijia Jiang of CBS News, he demanded: “Who are you with? … nice and easy, nice and easy, just relax … Keep your voice down, please. Keep your voice down.” Touting his partial travel restrictions on China, he insisted: “You should say, ‘Thank you very much for good judgment.’”
Away from the virus, Trump was questioned on whether he would consider pardoning allies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, who were caught in the justice department’s Russia investigation. “The top of the FBI was scum,” he complained bitterly. “They’re human scum.”