Speed Reads

coronavirus fallout

Trump's Oval Office coronavirus speech was a slapdash, last-minute endeavor, aides say

At some point on Wednesday, President Trump decided to deliver a prime-time Oval Office address on the coronavirus outbreak, setting off "a frantic scramble to arrange airtime on television networks, iron out logistics for his delivery, and prepare a draft of what he would say," The Washington Post reports. "Trump — who believed that by giving the speech he would appear in command and that his remarks would reassure financial markets and the country — was in 'an unusually foul mood' and sounded at times 'apoplectic' on Thursday as he watched stocks tumble and digested widespread criticism of his speech," the Post adds, citing a former senior administration official.

The speech was mostly written by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, according to the Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and The New York Times. Miller isn't involved in Trump's coronavirus task force, and "Kushner hasn't attended a single task force meeting," the Journal reports. The speech was "based on extensive dictation from the president and suggestions from Vice President Mike Pence," and it "was being rewritten up until the time it was fed into the teleprompter."

"The hastily drafted 10-minute speech had undergone last-minute edits from the president" and Miller "after other aides had left the room," Bloomberg News reports. "Among the changes they made: Deleting a sentence where Trump said he and Melania were sending their prayers and love to people suffering from the illness." The copy fed into the teleprompter contained two significant errors and Trump inserted a third, prompting an immediate post-speech cleanup effort.

The speech itself "caused a divide inside the White House," the Journal reports. Kushner thought Trump needed to do it, while senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told colleagues "it was a terrible idea." Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was also against the speech, urging Trump to "wait at least a day or two so as to provide officials with more information," the Times reports. Along with Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Hope Hicks favored the speech. Trump's final product, like "much of his presidency," the Post says, "was riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads."