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“It would be a mistake, a mistake with terrible consequences, for any adversary to attempt to do us harm during this health crisis, or ever for that matter.” — National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien
“This is the United States military. You will not penetrate this country. You will not get past Jump Street. You’re not going to come in here and kill additional Americans. And we will marshal whatever assets are required to prevent your entry into this country to kill Americans.” — General Milley
President Trump brought two teams with him to the press room on April 1, 2o2o. The first team looked very different. The focus: stopping international criminal cartels from exploiting the pandemic to ramp up illegal drug shipments. President Trump had already identified the threat of increased drug addiction and overdoses caused by sudden economic despair, a lethal side effect of the prescription by Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx for battling the Chinese coronavirus. The president then riffed through his introductory remarks while the regular crew gathered backstage and entered for the familiar themes, and some really good questions.
This effort shows we can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. We can fight more than one “war” at a time. The United States has just that level of capability, unlike any other country. This message, with all these military leaders, is also an indirect message to China and North Korea. It is not a good time to start acting up militarily. We have military capability in the midst of fighting a pandemic to also accelerate joint military operations against a very experienced paramilitary threat. We have a ready military that can project power anywhere in the world any time.
This effort is also focussed on the Maduro regime and its malign influence in the hemisphere, and signals Iran. A reporter asked a great question on the enormous under-reporting of coronavirus in Iran and the regime’s possible desperation, as it reportedly loses a number of senior leaders to the virus. She referred to this tweet:
Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq. If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2020
An AP report, via ABC, showed the new Quds Force commander flew into Baghdad to try to reassert Iranian control over Iraqi Shiite factions:
Esmail Ghaani, head of Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force, arrived in Baghdad late Monday, Iraqi officials said, in his first public visit to Iraq since succeeding slain Iranian general Qassim Soleimani. His arrival at Baghdad airport came amid a curfew to stem the spread of the coronavirus that has halted inbound and outbound flights.
Also of note today: a reporter actually asked President Trump to take power out of the hands of governors, to become the dictator that her gang has been relentlessly accusing him of being, or trying to be for the past three and a half years.
Congratulations to the Bloomberg reporter who has asked great questions for two days in a row on Saudi Arabia, Russia, and oil. President Trump said “I think they will make a deal,” while laying out the balances between low fuel costs (good for energy users including the airlines) and our energy industry with all the associated jobs. Senator Cruz had called into the Mark Davis Show in the morning and said that he and a group of Senators had called the Saudis and told them in the starkest terms that any further harm to our oil industry would make the House of Saud an enemy of the United States.
Dr. Birx talked about having issued a challenge to the universities that had previously developed antigen tests for other diseases to have a simple test for antigens out to the field this month, so that all healthcare workers will know if they already have immunity.
April 1, 2020
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
5:35 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. So, America continues to wage all-out war to defeat the virus — this horrible, horrible virus. You see how terrible it is, especially when you look at the numbers from yesterday. And we explained why we’re extending our nationwide guidelines to slow the spread by 30 days.
Together, we have the power to save countless lives. We’re attacking the virus on every front with social distancing, economic support for our workers, rapid medical intervention, and very serious innovation, and banning dangerous foreign travel that threatens the health of our people. And we did that early — far earlier than anyone would have thought and way ahead of anybody else.
In this time of need, I know that every American will do their patriotic duty and help us to achieve a total victory. As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there’s a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain. And we must not let that happen. We will never let that happen.
Today, the United States is launching enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics. We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives.
In cooperation with the 22 partner nations, U.S. Southern Command will increase surveillance, disruption, and seizures of drug shipments and provide additional support for eradication efforts which are going on right now at a record pace. We’re deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft, and helicopters; Coast Guard cutters; and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region. Very importantly, our forces are fully equipped with personnel protective equipment, and we’ve taken additional safety measures to ensure our troops remain healthy.
Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General Bill Barr, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien will provide more details. In addition, I’m going to have General Milley, who has done an incredible job in so many ways, say a few words. And also with us: our Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, who you know — I think you know; and Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Schultz.
So I’m going to ask Mark to start and then we can go. And after that, we’re going to take questions as it pertains to this. And then we’ll go onto phase two, which is the virus itself. Okay?
Thank you, please. Mark.
SECRETARY ESPER: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And good afternoon, everyone. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today as we make this very important announcement. At a time when the nation and the Department of Defense are focused on protecting the American people from the spread of the coronavirus, we also remain vigilant to the many other threats our country faces.
Today, at the President’s direction, the Department of Defense, in close cooperation with our interagency partners, began enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This initiative is part of the administration’s whole-of-government approach to combating the flow of illicit drugs into the United States and protecting the American people from their scourge.
I want to thank all of our partners in this effort, to include the United States Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Justice, and members of the intelligence community for their tremendous support and cooperation.
To conduct these enhanced operations, the President has directed the deployment of additional ships, aircraft, and security forces to the United States Southern Command Area of Responsibility. Included in this force package are Navy destroyers and littoral combat ships, Coast Guard cutters, P-8 patrol aircraft, and elements of an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade. These additional forces will nearly double our capacity to conduct counter-narcotics operations in the region.
Additionally, 22 partner nations have joined us in this fight, bringing with them a variety of intelligence and operations capabilities needed to defeat these criminal organizations.
Last year alone, United States Southern Command’s operations resulted in the seizure of over 280 metric tons of drugs, much of which was designated for shipment to America.
While this was an incredible achievement, there’s much more work to be done. Transnational criminal organizations continue to threaten our security by smuggling cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamines, and other narcotics across our borders. These drug traffickers put our communities — communities at risk and destroy lives. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans die from drug overdose and thousands more suffer the harmful effects of addiction.
Furthermore, corrupt actors, like the illegitimate Maduro regime in Venezuela, rely on the profits derived from the sale of narcotics to maintain their oppressive hold on power. The Venezuelan people continue to suffer tremendously due to Maduro’s criminal control over the country.
Drug traffickers are seizing on this lawlessness by increasing their illicit activities. We must do more to prevent these drugs from arriving at our shores. These enhanced counter-narcotics operations that are now underway will further disrupt the flow of illicit drugs to America, deny our adversaries the financial resources they depend on, and build the capacity of our partner nations throughout the region.
I want to thank President Trump for his leadership and support to this critical mission. This is a particularly important time for this operation to begin, as nations around the world shift their focus inward to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, many criminal organizations are attempting to capitalize on this crisis. The enhanced operations we’re announcing today will keep the pressure on these criminal groups and protect the American people from the devastation caused by the flow of illegal drugs into our country.
Mr. President, thank you for your leadership as we begin this important operation. While the men and women of the United States military work hard here at home to fight the coronavirus, we continue to take action around the world to defend our great country.
Thank you and I’d like to invite General Milley.
GENERAL MILLEY: Thank you, Secretary, for those words. And thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership. And I want to publicly thank Admiral Craig Faller, the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command out of Miami, for leading this operation, which is underway effective today; and also Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Schultz for their contributions to this from their services. There’s thousands of sailors, Coast Guardsmen, soldiers, airmen, Marines involved in this operation.
We came upon some intelligence some time ago that the drug cartels, as a result of COVID-19, were going to try to take advantage of the situation and try to infiltrate additional drugs into our country. As we know, 70,000 Americans die on an average annual basis to drugs. That’s unacceptable. We’re at war with COVID-19, we’re at war with terrorists, and we are at war with the drug cartels as well.
This is the United States military. You will not penetrate this country. You will not get past Jump Street. You’re not going to come in here and kill additional Americans. And we will marshal whatever assets are required to prevent your entry into this country to kill Americans.
So, right now, the Navy has marshalled additional grey-hull ships from both PACOM and EUCOM and for the naval fleet at Norfolk. And they are set sail already and they are in the Caribbean right now. In addition to that, there’s 10 Coast Guard cutters and there’s Special Operations Forces and Security Force Assistance Brigades, along with Air Force reconnaissance aircraft.
The bottom line is: You’re not going to get through. Now is not the time to try to penetrate the United States with illegal drugs to kill Americans. We’re the United States military and we will defend our country, regardless of the cost.
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Secretary.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, General. Beautiful. Thank you.
ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR: Thank you, Mr. President, and thanks for your decisive leadership as we confront this unprecedented challenge posed by corona- — coronavirus. I’d like to thank you for your support for this important initiative and thank all of — the Secretary of Defense and all the services for taking on this — this important initiative.
Obviously, during this crisis, we’re all focused above all else on COVID-19. But at the same time, our law enforcement and national security work must go forward, protecting the American people from the full array of threats.
For the Department of Justice, one of our highest priorities must remain destroying the Mexican cartels. Their trafficking is largely responsible for the deaths, as we all know now, of 70,000 Americans a year. And also the costs of this don’t count the destroyed families, the destroyed lives, the draining of our national treasure as state budgets are crushed by the burden that this — this narcotic trafficking causes.
The President has made clear that we are in this fight against the cartels to win, and that we are not interested in half measures, and that the threat posed by the cartel is not just a law enforcement threat, but a national security threat as well.
And, in December, building on your success with the Mexican President in forging a cooperative relationship in the area of immigration, you asked me to go down and meet with the President López Obrador and our Mexican counterparts to see if we could also establish a more comprehensive and coordinated effort with the Mexicans in confronting the cartels. And we’ve had some successful visits and discussions, and currently have an array of activities underway against the cartels. And we anticipate, along with the Mexicans, that these are going to bear fruit in the months ahead.
But it quickly became clear that we can obtain the most immediate results, the best bang for the buck, where we increase the assets involved in interdiction on both the Pacific and Atlantic side of Mexico in the Central American countries. For years, the cartels have been using these sea routes to take the cocaine up from, principally, Colombia — now also out of Venezuela. And these sea routes on both coasts have become the primary means of bringing cocaine up to the United States.
Because of the superb work done by the Defense Department and our intelligence community, we know exactly, most of the time, where these traffickers are at sea. But we’re significantly — have been up until now significantly limited in our ability to interdict because of the numbers of the assets we have deployed.
Prior today, this limitation meant we could only intercept a fraction of the traffickers that — and the various boats that were detected. This will now double our capacity, and we are talking about hundreds of tons of cocaine now — we’re now in a position to seize.
So this is going to radically improve our interdiction efforts and put tremendous pressure, we think, on the cartels. And the effort that SOUTHCOM is undertaking is going to save lives by taking drugs off the street.
Last week, I announced the unsealing of charges of narco-terrorism, drug trafficking, and other crimes against the former Maduro regime — 16 members of that regime — and their involvement in trafficking of 250 metric tons a year. A lot of that comes by sea, as I discussed at that time.
But also, because of the pressure we’re applying by our sea interdiction, they are trying to establish an air route out of Venezuela, up into Central America, which is one of the reasons we’re trying to move firmly against that corrupt regime.
You know, this drug war has gone on for many decades. And at times in the past, we’ve had great success and great results. And at times, we’ve taken our eye off the ball — fortunately, not in this administration. And I’m grateful that you, Mr. President, have brought focus to this fight and the determination to use whatever tools are necessary to win the fight. The cartels have to be defeated, both for the people of this country and for the people of Mexico and Venezuela.
So I’d like to thank you again, Mr. President, Secretary Esper, for providing the wherewithal required to help win this war against the cartels and others who seek to send illicit drugs into our country.
And, with that, I’d like to introduce Ambassador O’Brien.
AMBASSADOR O’BRIEN: Thank you, General. Thank you, Mr. President. Today’s action is another example of the bold leadership of President Trump and his commitment to protecting the homeland against threats that seek to destabilize the United States and our Western Hemisphere.
The uncontrolled flow of illegal drugs into the United States poisons our communities; fuels the dangerous epidemic — epidemic of addiction; and threatens the safety and security of all Americans.
The impressive U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and interagency operation will address a range of threats to our national security posed by narco-traffickers and narco-terrorists.
It will reduce illicit financial support for the drug traffic- — for drug trafficking that provides the corrupt Maduro regime in Venezuela and other bad actors with the funds necessary to conduct their malign activities.
Under President Trump’s leadership, we will continue to execute our maximum pressure policy to counter the Maduro regime’s malign activities, including drug trafficking. And this operation will help to choke off the funds that go to that corrupt regime.
Maduro, narco-terrorists, and criminals should make no mistake that even as we are working around the clock to fight the spread of coronavirus, we will continue to execute the President’s counter-narcotics strategy.
We’re working on a number of important national security priorities as we face this public health crisis. The United States will continue to combat disinformation and fake news about this virus. We will work with the world’s largest oil producers to address volatility in global oil markets. We will always protect our servicemen and servicewomen around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I want the American people to know that President Trump and Vice President Pence and their administration are working tirelessly every day to protect the health and well-being of Americans and respond to the coronavirus.
Our adversaries should take note however: This President has a clear-eyed focus on America’s national security’s — security interest. And let me be clear, it would be a mistake — a mistake with terrible consequences — for any adversary to attempt to do us harm during this health crisis — or ever, for that matter.
Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. So do we have any questions on this? Because this group is going to go back to work. They’re going to leave.
Q A question either for you, Mr. President, or Secretary Esper. What has changed that is allowing these assets to be deployed now, whereas, as General Barr said, in the past, they were not available?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, for a long time, we’ve had a lot of drugs coming into our country. And it’s not that it’s increased, it’s prob- — we’ve probably got it down a little bit, but it’s still a tremendous number. Families are being ruined. Lives are being ruined. It’s an incredible thing, especially as you’re at this position. You would never believe it. I see things that nobody would believe. I see reports that nobody would believe.
So I met with the group behind me, all of them, and we said, “What do you think we can do?” And they think they can interdict. They think we can stop it before it gets to the shores. And they’re coming from all over the place. And we have incredibly talented people.
So I think I’m going to let Mark just give a little bit of an answer to that. But we just want to see if we can stop a big — a good percentage of the drugs coming into our country.
SECRETARY ESPER: Sure thing. Thanks, Mr. President.
So, first of all, it’s simply a matter of prioritization. The President has giving us very clear guidance on what’s important to him and protecting the American people. And, as some of you know, I’ve began — I began a review months ago, looking at all of our different geographic combatant commands and looking at where we can free up time, money, and resources to put in — into other endeavors.
In this case, we had scrutinized our inventory fairly closely. Chairman Milley did a great deal of work on this Admiral Gilday. And we felt that there was no risk to the fleet, to our operations to free up, in this case, naval ships. We also freed up aircraft and other assets to apply them to this presidential priority. And of course the Coast Guard did the same.
So it was a very good operation. We feel this is very important to the American people and completely in line with the President’s direction.
Q And how long will you be able to keep up this operational tempo?
SECRETARY ESPER: Well, it depends. What we’re going to do is we’re going to run it for some matter of time. I’m not going to disclose how long that will be. And then we will assess it, and then we will make adjustments from there. We may increase. We may decrease. We may sustain as is. But this will be an assessment we will do as interagency team. We will report back to the President. And we’ll take further guidance from there.
THE PRESIDENT: And, you know, we didn’t do it for this reason, but it’ll also have an impact on the virus because we have people trying to get in. So not only drugs, but now we have a new phenomena. And that’s at least for the next hopefully short period of time — the virus. So we’ll be able to have an effect on that too.
Q Yeah. Mr. President, could you expand on that a little bit? Because you tie it to COVID-19, saying that these drug cartels were taking advantage of the situation, of this pandemic.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right. They were.
Q How exactly —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, because we’re focused on so many other parts of the country, and even parts of the world. And, all of a sudden, areas where we — we had it clamped down pretty tight — in all fairness.
You know, the wall is up to about 160 miles already. And any areas where we have that wall, it’s, for the most part, contiguous. We have fill-ins. But we’re up to 161 miles exactly.
And any place where you have that wall, other than walking around it on the edges, it’s stopping everybody cold. I mean, we’re stopping — we’re — nobody has seen anything like it. That’s how good it works. And the other side knew it worked that well — everybody. Because everybody was for it five years ago. All of a sudden, they changed. It’s having a tremendous impact.
But we are now focused on so many different things because of what’s happened, because of this horrible — I say it’s a horrible phenomena that now we’ve got to focus on drugs. And the drugs come in from different methods. And we have the best people at sea anywhere in the world, so we’ll have a tremendous impact on drugs.
But one of the other things: We’ll also have an impact, we think on the — on the virus.
Okay? Yeah. Please.
Q Ambassador O’Brien, did China underreport both the number of cases and the death toll from the coronavirus? And if that’s the case, Mr. President, what does that mean for our relationship with China and your relationship with President Xi?
AMBASSADOR O’BRIEN: Well, number one, I think the President has a great relationship with President Xi. And we’d like to have a great relationship with China. Unfortunately, we are just not in a position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China. There’s no way to confirm any of those numbers.
There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are — are too low. You’ve got access to those reports that are coming out of the Chinese social media and — and some of the few reporters that are left in China. We just have no way to confirm any of those numbers. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: We really don’t know. I mean, yeah — look, how do we know whether if they underreported or reported however they report?
But we had a great call the other night. We’re working together on a lot of different things, including trade. They’re buying a lot. They’re spending a lot of money and they’re giving it to our farmers. They’re paying our farmers for the product. So, you know, we’re going to — we’re going to continue that along.
Q I have another one, sir. You tweeted earlier today that there was — you have uncovered intelligence that there is a sneak attack being planned against American troops, American assets in Iraq. Are we talking about Kata’ib Hezbollah again? Also —
THE PRESIDENT: I know what you’re saying, but we just have information that they were planning something. And it’s very good information. It was led by Iran — not necessarily Iran, but by groups supported by Iran. But that, to me, is Iran. And we’re just saying, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” It would be a very bad thing for them if they did it.
Q The last time they did do it in early March, at Camp Taji, there was a response from the military against Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Hezbollah alone. Your tweets —
THE PRESIDENT: That was a very powerful response, by the way. That response knocked out five different places, but it also took out a lot of very bad people.
Q Your tweets seemed to suggest though that if it happens again, it may go up the food chain.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that was a very big response. You know, we knocked out a lot. We looked — they hit one site; we hit five big ones and ammunition sites. You saw the — you saw what happened. And I won’t say how many people were killed, but some bad people were killed. And a lot of them. That was a big response. But this response will be bigger if they do something.
Yeah. You had one. Please.
Q Yes. Thank you, Mr. President. Just going back to your conversation with President Xi, I’m wondering if you received an intelligence report that talked about the discrepancy in the numbers and if you addressed that with President Xi?
THE PRESIDENT: We have not received that. But their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side. And I’m being nice when I say that, relative to what we witnessed and what was reported.
But we discussed that with him — not so much the numbers, as what they did and how they’re doing. And we’re in constant communication with — I mean, I would say the biggest communication is myself and President Xi. The relationship is very good.
We have — look, they’re spending — they will be spending, when things even out — this is obviously a little bit of a hurdle, what’s happened over the last month. But they’ll be spending $250 billion, buying our product: $50 billion to the farmers alone, $200 billion to other things. They never did that before. So we have a great trade deal. And we’d like to keep it, they’d like to keep it, and the relationship is good.
As to whether or not their numbers are accurate, I’m not an accountant from China.
Q Does this strain things at all, in terms of the trade deal?
THE PRESIDENT: No, because people just don’t know. People don’t know where did it come from. I think we all understand where it came from. And President Xi understands that. And we don’t have to make a big deal out of it.
We didn’t like the fact that they said it came from our soldiers. And they haven’t pursued that. It was — and that was a mid-level person said that. That was not a high-level person, so I assume. I will always assume the best. I’ll assume the high-level people didn’t know about it. It was a foolish statement.
So, look, the relationship with China is a good one, and my relationship with him is, you know, really good.
Q Can I follow up just on that point on Chinese propaganda that you mentioned, as well as Ambassador O’Brien? So in the past several weeks, China has been shipping PPEs — you know, masks.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q They’ve either been selling or donating everywhere — Africa, Europe, Italy, Russia — and really pushing this narrative that they’re taking on a global leadership role in the crisis. So what are your thoughts on that? And is there any plan for the administration to take on that role?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t mind if they want it. Yeah. I view that as a positive, if they’re helping other countries. We have 151 countries right now that are under siege by the virus. Under siege. Some are doing really badly. You know, they don’t know about social distancing. These are countries that aren’t highly sophisticated. They don’t have great communication with the rest of the world. I mean, they don’t know the things that we’re doing and that some others are able to do.
And if China can help them, I’m all for it. I’m for all of us helping everybody. We’re soon going to have more ventilators than we need. We’re building thousands of ventilators right now. Now, it takes a period of time to build them. And again, nobody could have known a thing like this could happen. We’re building thousands. We will fairly soon be at a point where we have far more than we can use, even after we stockpile for some future catastrophe, which we hope doesn’t happen.
We’re going to be distributing them — the extras — around the world. We’ll go to Italy, we’ll go to France. It will go to Spain, which is, you know, very hard hit.
Q Just to follow up on that note: Is there any truth on reporting that your administration is stopping shipment of USAID stockpiles of PPEs abroad?
THE PRESIDENT: No. No, truth whatsoever.
Q So your administration is not —
THE PRESIDENT: No, we want — I would love China and other countries, if they have additional supplies, medical supplies, to give to other countries. A hundred and fifty-one — 151 —
Q So at this time, the U.S. is still shipping to USAID?
THE PRESIDENT: Why would I stop that? Wouldn’t that be terrible to stop it?
Q No, I mean, is the U.S. stopping shipment of our own stockpile, through USAID, to other countries?
THE PRESIDENT: No. Whatever we have, whatever we’ve committed to, we commit. But we also need a lot for ourselves, so we’re very focused on that until we get over this. So obviously, we’re not going to be shipping too much until — now, we do have excess of certain things, and we don’t have enough of others.
I just had a great talk today with the — Doug McMillon, from Walmart. And I gave him a very, very big order to — for gowns, for protective gear for the doctors, for the nurses, for everything. And he’s actually very excited about it. He’s the biggest purchaser of this kind of thing. I mean, of anything probably in the world. And he is very excited about it.
And he said, “What size?” I said, “It’s almost unlimited.” When you look at these hospitals, the amount that they order, you almost say, “How could they possibly use so much, whether it’s masks or the protective gear?” But we are supplying a tremendous amount, and we just ordered a lot from Walmart. And he’s taken this on personally. And I said, “Let it go ship — let it be shipped not to a warehouse, directly to the side of the hospital or wherever they need it,” because we save a lot of time when we do that.
So Walmart, in addition to many other companies and people, is now involved at the highest level.
Q The announcements that were made today are aimed at curbing the flow of narcotics into the country. Are you concerned that we’re possibly losing ground on the drug crisis while we’re combatting —
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t think we’re losing ground, but we don’t want to lose ground. That’s why we’re doing it. I don’t want to lose ground. That’s a big fight.
I’ve seen many families where they’re wiped out because they lost a son or a daughter, or a husband or a wife, or whatever — or all of them. And we don’t want to lose ground. And we are heavily focused on the virus. Very heavily focused. And with this, we have never — after this goes into effect, which essentially is now, we will never have been so focused on drugs coming into our country as we are right now.
And remember, as that wall gets bigger, that really helps us a lot. It really helps us a lot.
Q Is the Mexican government or any other Latin American government working in conjunction with this operation to help with that drug —
THE PRESIDENT: Many of the governments are, and Mexico, in particular, is. And Mexico, right now, has — we have 27,000 Mexican soldiers on our southern border, keeping people out of our country. And we’re — very few people are coming into our country right now.
And as we complete, again, the wall, in addition to the 27,000 soldiers, it’s — it’s a very — it’s a very tough place to come into. When I — when I took over, people were coming in and they were bringing whatever they wanted. They were bringing drugs of any type, and now it’s very hard for them. And it will get harder and harder.
But the President of Mexico is a great guy who’s really helped us a lot: 27,000 soldiers — 27,000 Mexican soldiers.
And you remember when I first took over, they had all of the caravans coming up with 10,000, 15,000 people in the caravans. They were marching through Mexico. That’s not happening anymore.
Please, in the back.
Q Mr. President, are narco militants such as the FARC 57th Front out of Colombia or the Maduro regime — do you know if they’re working in conjunction with the Mexican cartels? Is there any intelligence indicating that?
THE PRESIDENT: I cannot tell you that. I can — I know the answer to that. I believe I do. But I cannot tell you that. We have information that would lead us to believe something very powerfully, but I cannot tell you the answer to that.
Yeah, please. Jeff.
Q Mr. President, have U.S. forces in Iraq taken any precautions because of this particular attack?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, sure. Sure.
Q And have you —
THE PRESIDENT: They’re taking precautions, and we are watching it very closely. And if something bad happens, it’s going to be very painful for the other side.
Q Have you been in touch with the Iraqi government about this?
THE PRESIDENT: They know about it, yeah. They know about it.
Q Are they offering additional protection or anything?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. But, you know, we’re down to a small force now. Over the years since I got — we’ve been bringing smaller and smaller. And we’re down right now to a small number, but we have very powerful airpower there. We have the big base, and — which will — you know, I mean, nobody can get near it. Nobody can even get near that. But we’ve really, largely, left. You know, we’ve taken tremendous amounts out and we’ve deployed them elsewhere, including bringing some back home.
Q And do you think tweeting about it will help prevent that from happening —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I think it’s — it’s not tweeting.
Q — or perhaps give them a heads up?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s called “social media.” It’s social media. It gets out. I have, you know, hundreds of millions of people. Number one on Facebook. Did you know I was number one on Facebook? I mean, I just found out I’m number one on Facebook. I thought that was very nice for whatever it means.
No, it represents something. And when I can explain to people: Just don’t do it. You know, it’s going to be bad if you do it. It’s going to be really bad. And they don’t need to do it. They have enough problems. Iran has enough problems without doing that.
But we’ve been pulling back very substantially over the last year, in Iraq. And so, you know, that’s the way it is.
Q You said, before, you don’t want to give the enemy — whoever that is in this case — a heads up. Do you feel like maybe you did?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I’m just giving them a warning. It’s not a heads up. I’m giving them a warning. There’s a big difference. I’m saying: If you do anything to hurt our troops they’re going to — they’re going to pay a price.
No, they did last time, you know, as per the question. They did last time. We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but we hit very, very hard five massive, major ammunition sites, and a lot of people went with it. A lot of bad people. A lot of enemy went with it. And we didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but they paid a big price. They’ll pay a much bigger price this time if they do anything.
Q Mr. President, now that we have Admiral Gilday here, perhaps we could ask a question about what the plans are for the Roosevelt, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
ADMIRAL GILDAY: In terms of the Roosevelt, we’re making great progress in terms of testing and also moving — moving people off the ship. So, in the past day or so, we’ve moved over 1,000. That number will increase to more than 2,700 by Friday as we continue to increase the testing as well and fly those samples off. So we’re getting after it pretty — pretty quickly.
Q And will the ship remain fully operational?
ADMIRAL GILDAY: It is fully operational now.
Q And it will remain so?
ADMIRAL GILDAY: It will remain so.
Q Can I ask a follow-up to that? What protocols are you putting in place to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus among servicemen and women who live and work in close quarters?
ADMIRAL GILDAY: Across the fleet, before we have any ships getting underway for training exercises, for deployments, they’re spending — those sailors are spending 14 days in quarantine before they get underway. We’ve increased the amount of testing equipment, as well as physicians onboard our ship at sea. So we’ve taken additional steps since the beginning of the COVID crisis.
THE PRESIDENT: And not too many people are going to be getting off at various ports anymore. Right?
I think we —
ADMIRAL GILDAY: Correct.
THE PRESIDENT: We probably have decided on that. Okay?
Q You mean civilians?
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. No — military people, from the ships.
SECRETARY ESPER: I want to add one — I’d like to add one thing to that. There seems to be this narrative out there that we should just shut down the entire United States military and address the problem that way. That’s not feasible. We have a mission. Our mission is to protect the United States of America and our people. And so we live and work in cramped quarters, whether it’s an aircraft carrier, a submarine, a tank, a bomber. It’s the nature of our business.
But the chain of command has very clear guidance. And I’m confident between the commanding officers and the senior non-commissioned officers, that they’re taking every reasonable precaution to make sure we practice, as best we can, social distancing, sanitizing environments, et cetera, consistent with that mission. And that’s what I trust Admiral Gilday, Acting Secretary Modly, and all the other service chiefs and service leaders to do. And I’m confident we’ll do that. Because keep in mind, we have a job to do and we will continue to do it: defend the United States of America.
Q Mr. President, you mentioned the stockpile earlier. The Washington Post reported today that the U.S. stockpile is nearly depleted of PPE. Is that the case?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q And if so —
THE PRESIDENT: It is —
Q — how are you planning to mitigate that?
THE PRESIDENT: — because we’re sending it directly to hospitals. We don’t want it to come to the stockpile because then we have to take it after it arrives and bring it to various states and hospitals.
One of the things — and again, we asked the state to do this as much as possible — many of the states have people that — whether it’s that or clothing; they make clothing — lots of clothing in many of the different states. We said, “See if you can get it directly from those manufacturers. Make a deal.” We’ll use the Purchase Act, if we have to, on them. If they won’t — by the way, so many people are — the spirit is incredible, what they’re doing.
But we’ve asked states where they have large manufacturers of different types of equipment to use those local factories, those local plants, and have it made directly. Ship it right into the hospitals.
We’re shipping things right in. We have, as you know, almost 10,000 ventilators, which we need for flexibility. It’s a lot. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Because, as you see on the board from yesterday, as this scourge, as this plague, as this virus moves — it moves very fast — and we don’t know yet whether we’re going to need it in Louisiana, in New York, you know, wherever it may be. So we’re ready for it. We’re totally ready for it.
We’re going to be shipping out — we’ve already agreed to ship out over 1,000 today to different sites, different locations. But we have to have the flexibility of moving the ventilators to where — to where the virus is going. And we’ll be able to see that — you know, we’ll be able to see that from charts a couple of days in advance.
So right now we have a nice pile of ventilators. We have a lot more coming in. We have a lot of — I think we have 11 companies that are making ventilators right now. Very good companies. And they’re making them — you know about Ford, you know about General Motors, but we have a lot of companies making the ventilators right now.
So now, the question is — you know, when you make one, it doesn’t get made in 15 minutes. It’s not — a mask can go quickly; a ventilator takes time to build. It’s very, very — as we discussed, it’s complex, it’s big, it’s expensive — you know, et cetera. But we’ll be able to move. We have great flexibility.
Q I was just going to say, sir, do you want to move on to solely coronavirus or stick with the military —
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, I think if — does anybody have any other questions for this great group of brilliant people?
Q Thank you, Mr. President. A question for Secretary Esper. Is — the military personnel has been fanned out across the country to help combat the virus. Is there any chance that they’re planning to see, at some point, having military personnel treat or see COVID-19 patients?
SECRETARY ESPER: Well, excuse me. As you know, we have the hospital ships currently deployed — one in LA and one in New York City. So they are — they will be — they could be treating patients as they come in. We’re taking precautionary measures to screen them beforehand to make sure that they’re not — they’re not exposed, if you will.
Same with the military hospitals that we are — we’re deploying, certainly, again, to New York, Seattle, and other places. But the one thing we got to be careful of where we’re — where we’re — is that these are deployable assets; they are unique. So if we want to retain the ability to deploy military doctors, expeditionary military hospitals around the country, we got to preserve and protect them as — as best we can.
That said, we remain completely available to assist as need be, as directed by FEMA, as the Vice President and the President asks us. That’s what we commit to do to the American people to help safeguard them and protect them through this through this virus.
Q So as part of that, they — will they be seeing coronavirus patients or will they strictly be seeing other patients and helping (inaudible)?
SECRETARY ESPER: They could have called upon — I think the best use for them is — based on their training and how they’re structured and organized — is for trauma. We can take the load off of hospitals with regard to their trauma patients, thereby freeing up rooms and other doctors, particularly doctors who are, you know, respiratory nurses or doctors who deal with infectious disease to treat those type of patients.
So I think it’s the best use of our resources. But again, if push comes to shove, we’re prepared to do what we have to assist the American people, at the same time preserving the medical capability we need to support our operations and deployed forces abroad.
THE PRESIDENT: And we’re looking at doing two additional brand-new hospital ships because these ships have really — I mean, they really struck a blow — a very positive blow for what they’re doing going into Los Angeles, going into New York.
So we’re looking very seriously at building two additional ships of about the same size.
Q Building two new ones or deploying two new ones?
THE PRESIDENT: It’ll either be — well, building. But we’re looking at building either two new ones or doing the renovation of another large ship. But this has really worked out well. So, probably two brand-new ones.
Q Just to follow up —
Q So, Mr. President — Mr. President —
THE PRESIDENT: Is this concerning the gentlemen, or do you want them —
Q Yeah. No. No.
THE PRESIDENT: You don’t want them to get back to work and capture all those bad people?
Q A follow-up, Mr. President or Mr. Secretary.
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead. Sure. Go ahead.
Q I know that Secretary Wilkie has said he’s on standby, waiting to hear if VA hospitals need to be opened — the doors need to be opened to civilians.
THE PRESIDENT: True.
Q Are you talking about that?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we are.
Q Could we see that happen? How soon would that happen?
THE PRESIDENT: In fact, certain hospitals — yeah, certain hosp- — it can move very quickly. He’s a very capable man. We’re ready to move very quickly. As an example, in Louisiana, they have a very big hospital, so we’re looking to move very quickly if we need them. You know, hopefully we won’t need them.
Q When will you make that decision? Do you think we’ll need that soon?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re going to find out pretty soon. We’re only going to know when — at the time it happens. We prepare for the worst. We are preparing for the worst. Unfortunately, that’s the way we have to look at it.
Q Just to follow up on the purpose of these naval ships, you mentioned something about, you know, treating trauma patients. And I’m just curious: What about things like, you know, giving birth? Would mothers be expected, in New York, for example —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I understand, they’re not doing that on the ship. That’s the one thing they’re not doing, outside of the COVID-19. They’re not doing that. The birth of a baby — not being done on the ships.
Q Can I have a follow-up question with Attorney General Barr, please? This has to do with the visa restrictions on immigrant doctors. Is the administration considering easing the restrictions or waiving restrictions for doctors with J-1 or H-1B visas so they can help other doctors during this crisis?
ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR: Actually, the immigration laws are no longer under the administration of the Department of Justice and I haven’t been participating in any of those discussions.
Q Well, what about you, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Any other questions? Please, go ahead.
Q Can you respond to that question, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: One more. One more for this group I have right here please.
Q To Secretary Esper: The WHO — this is on the topic of coronavirus in Iran. The WHO confirms that Iran is vastly underreporting its coronavirus cases — not just cases, but fatalities. According to on-the-ground estimates, that might be as high as fifteen and a half thousand deaths. Thirty-two commanders in the military in Iran are now confirmed either in dire condition or dead. You have 8 percent of the parliament now down with coronavirus. So is Iran’s soundings of aggressions today that President Trump just tweeted about — do you think, strategically, is that a bluff on their part, or is this a sign of very clear desperation? Where are you, strategically, on that?
SECRETARY ESPER: Well, first and foremost, we empathize for the Iranian people. I mean, they clearly have been hit hard. As you know, I — I think the President has spoken about it, certainly Secretary Pompeo. We’ve offered assistance, we’ve offered medical supplies, et cetera. They’ve refused that. I — I think if the Iranian regime put more interest, in terms of taking care of their people in the context of this virus, they would be better served.
Instead, the Iranian regime continues to want to spread its malign activities throughout the region. They want to continue to send out the Quds Force and others to — to cause problems throughout the region. We know that, in one way, shape, or form, they’re resourcing, directing, approving, of whatever operations for Shia militia groups in Iraq that are targeting American forces.
So, I think at the end of the day, again, I feel deep concern for the Iranian people. The important thing is that the Iranian government should focus on them and stop this malign behavior that they’ve been conducting now for over 40 years. I think the entire region, and certainly the Iranian people, would be better off for it.
THE PRESIDENT: And I happen to think they want to make a deal; they just don’t know, really, how to start. And they’ve been given some bad advice by former Secretary Kerry. It’s some very bad advice.
Q Is it a bluff on their part, do you think?
THE PRESIDENT: And I really think they want to make a deal — which is the Logan Act, but we’d have to look at the Logan Act. All you have to do is take a look. I think they’ve been given very bad advice by Secretary Kerry. I think that — I think they’re dying to make a deal.
Look, their country is in trouble. Their economics are shot. They’re in — they’ve got a lot of bad things going. I think they’d like to make a deal. They can get it settled very quickly.
No nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons.
Q Do you feel like you’re — would you be in a position to —
[Transition here from military and DOJ to medical focus brief]
THE PRESIDENT: They can’t have nuclear weapons. It’s very simple.
Okay, let’s let these folks get back to work. Is that okay? Thank you all very much.
So, as we deploy our service members to combat both threats abroad, invisible enemy at home, earlier today I spoke to our nation’s incredible warriors and military families. Spent a long time on the phone with thousands and thousands of families that were hooked in.
In order to stop the spread of the virus, some of these families have delayed planned moves to their next duty station. And in other cases, military families are also waiting longer to welcome home their heroes from deployment. There’s a tremendous burden to bear. And the families have been involved with us for so long, and they are incredible. Without the families, they couldn’t be the great service members that they turned out to be, and they understand that.
And I must say, protecting our military families is our top priority. So they understand what they’re — what’s happening with respect to the virus — and they understand it well. They’ve been fantastic.
As Commander-in-Chief, I’m deeply grateful for our service members, their spouses, and their children, whose love, devotion, and sacrifice keeps America strong.
To make, procure, and deliver crucial medical supplies to our doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers, my administration is leveraging the might of American manufacturing, supply chains, and innovators across the industry and across every industry. And I just told you about Walmart and I could tell you about many more. Hanes is making protective gear and masks, and we’re making tremendous amounts of product. There’s never been anything like it.
At the same time, I tell the governors, “Get it yourself, if you can, from your local companies and your local warehouses and factories. If you can do that, you should do that.”
Because of the actions that we’ve taken under the Defense Production Act, manufacturers and suppliers are sharing with FEMA and HHS their planned orders and allocations to states and to hospitals all over the region. This enables FEMA and HHS to work closely with states, local governments, and private sector to allocate critical resources to highly impacted areas.
Working together, we’re entirely focused on getting materials to the right place at the right time. So we want it to go directly to a hospital or directly to a certain state location, and ideally, not even hit the states’ warehouses. If we can avoid the warehouses, it’s even better because they go directly into a hospital.
And one example of that is Ohio — the great state of Ohio. Senator Rob Portman called today and he asked for some help, and got us — did a tremendous job, along with Mike DeWine, the great governor of Ohio, to facilitate a donation of 2.2 million gowns. 2.2 million gowns. Think of what that is: 2.2 million to the Strategic National Stockpile from Ohio-based Cardinal Health. Cardinal Health, we appreciate it. And they’re making much more than that and different types of things.
We’re profoundly grateful for their contribution to protect the lives and safety of our healthcare professionals. Cardinal has been working with us very well.
FEMA and HHS formed a historic partnership with the private sector called “Project Airbridge” to bring supplies from other countries to the United States, including gloves, gowns, goggles, and masks. These supplies will soon be distributed around the country. We have large cargo planes coming in from various parts of the world.
Every day, new planeloads are landing in cities such as New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles. Additional flights have been scheduled, and we’re adding more and more. And they’re actually coming in ahead of schedule. A lot of these flights are coming in with a lot of material ahead of schedule. The amount of usage, the amount of need, is something that nobody has ever seen before. We are getting so much, but no matter how much we get, they seem to use it up very quickly.
More than 17,000 National Guard personnel have now been activated all across our country. On Tuesday, the Vice President sent a letter to the governors, calling on them to have plans in place to use the National Guard to move medical supplies from warehouses to hospitals.
So, a lot of times, we’ll deliver supplies to a warehouse in a state — someplace in New York or in New Jersey or in Connecticut or wherever it may be — and they’re having difficulty getting it moved. So what we’re doing, if we don’t bring it directly to the hospital, is we’ve authorized — it was a special authorization — the National Guard to go into that facility and to move it for the state.
So the National Guard is moving a lot of this equipment and medical supplies into a hospital or into an area where it’s needed by the state.
As I said yesterday, difficult days are ahead for our nation. We’re going to have a couple of weeks, starting pretty much now, but especially a few days from now, that are going to be horrific. But even in the most challenging of times, Americans do not despair. We do not give in to fear. We pull together, we persevere, and we overcome, and we win.
This week, every American heart is joined with the people of New York as they continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. To every New Yorker: Please know that we are by your side. I love New York. And every day, we will be with you.
And it could very well be that others take over from New York. There are some areas, some hotspots in other states that are really exploding. Some, like Louisiana, were very late. And then, all of a sudden, it was like an explosion.
In confronting this deadly plague, America is armed with capabilities never dreamed of in past centuries. If you look at 1917, the pandemic, it was something. It ravaged parts of this country but ravaged Europe. Ravaged. They say 75- to 100 million — some people say 50- to 75 million people died. Think of that. And that was a long time ago, over 100 years ago. Very, very — many books written about the 1917, 1918 pandemic.
Our doctors are pouring over the virus genetic code, designing potential therapies and vaccines. Our planes are airlifting supplies from every corner of the Earth. We’re watching other countries and they’re watching us to see whether or not — and who’s going to be the first to come up with a cure or a remedy of some kind or even a help, if it can help — and of course, a vaccine. We’re looking very strongly for a vaccine. Johnson & Johnson is doing well, and other companies are doing very well.
But our most powerful asset, our greatest weapon in this effort is the spirit of our people. And we want to keep away, keep a distance. Keep away. If you don’t get it — it solves a lot of problems. If you don’t get it — and you can’t get it if you keep the distance.
American spirit is unyielding, unwavering, and unbreakable. It’s incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it — the way the people have pulled together, the unity of this country.
So, together, we’re going to win this war, and the sooner we do, the sooner we can begin to rebuild. And we’re ready to rebound and return to normal lives. We went from the best economy in the history of the world, the best economy that this country has ever seen — the best employment numbers we’ve ever had; 160 million people working, almost; 160 million — to a point where the professionals came to me and they say, “Sir, you’re going to have to shut the country down.” I said, “What does that mean?” They said, “Sir, you’re going to have to shut it down.”
And we’re going to build it up, and I think we’re going to build it up fast. I think we’re going to have a tremendous rebound. There’s a great energy and a great pent-up demand.
And as you know, phase three was terrific, and phase four — what passed in Congress — and phase four, if that happens, will be great. I already proposed a — paying almost zero interest on bonds, and I proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which would not only fix our roads and highways and bridges and tunnels and other things, but will also do something very good. It’s called “jobs.”
I’m also asking that restaurants and entertainment facilities go back to the old deductibility from corporations where corporations can buy, because otherwise a lot of these restaurants are going to have a hard time reopening. It takes a long time. And they’re going to have a hard time reopening. So we’re asking for going back to deductibility, where corporations can buy and corporations can go out to lunch, and they pay and they get a deduction on what they eat, they get a deduction on the bill, and same with the entertainment. It’s going to bring a lot of people back. I think it’ll open up the restaurant business.
People forget that, years ago, they had that. And when they got rid of it, when they ended it for whatever reason — but they ended it — many, many restaurants went out of business, many entertainment-type facilities went out of business. And now is a great time to bring it back. It was — it was a terrible time for that business after they ended it. But this is a great time to bring it back. It’ll keep our restaurants going. In fact, I think the restaurant business will be actually bigger and better than it is right now. So we’re also talking about that.
[VP Pence enters with Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci]
And now what we’ll do is we’ll take some questions. And I see Mike is back with some of the folks. That’s great. Dr. Fauci. And we will — oh, how are you? Thank you, Deborah.
So we’ll take some questions, and we make progress day by day.
Q Why not take the power out of the hands of the governors and you just issue a stay-at-home order for every state in this country?
THE PRESIDENT: Because states are different. States are different. And I understand that the governor of Florida — great governor, Ron DeSantis — issued one today. And that’s good. That’s great. But there are some states that are different. There are some states that don’t have much of a problem.
Q What makes them different?
THE PRESIDENT: There are some — well, they don’t have the problem. They don’t have thousands of people that are positive, or thousands of people that even think they might have it — or hundreds of people, in some cases.
So you have to look — you have to look at states. You have to give a little bit of flexibility. I mean, if a state in the Midwest, or if Alaska, as an example, doesn’t have a problem, it’s awfully tough to say, “Close it down.” So we have to have a little bit of flexibility.
Look, we’re helping governors. We’re really here to help governors. They’re the frontline of attack, and that includes in purchasing, by the way. We’re here and we’re backing them up. And there’s never been a backup like we’ve given them. We’ve given them billions of dollars’ worth of things — medical supplies and ventilators; thousands and thousands of ventilators. We have thousands under construction right now. We have thousands ready to go in case they need it. There’s never been anything like this.
I mean, we’ve — they’ve done really — the people have done incredibly. We’re building hospitals all over the country. We’re building hospitals right now at a rate that has never even been contemplated before. They’re mobile hospitals, but they’re really not mobile. I mean, they’re incredible structures. But we’re building many hospitals: Louisiana, New Jersey, New York. We just finished a massive hospital complex. And we also have medical centers built in New York. I mean, we’re building hospitals at the rate that this country has never done before. And hopefully it’s all going to work out.
Q A follow-up on DeSantis, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Please, go ahead.
Q Yes, Mr. President. I just want to make sure we’re clear. On the planes, are you looking at just curtailing routes between certain hotspots, or is it broadly?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re looking at the whole thing, because we’re getting into a position now where we want to do that. We have to do that. And so we’re looking at the whole thing.
Q You wouldn’t —
THE PRESIDENT: And we may have — we may have some recommendations.
Q And my second question on economics. Just with oil — oil prices are very low.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q The Saudis have increased production. I know that you’ve spoken about liking low oil prices, but then there’s also the industry aspect.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s like, from 1950, these oil prices. And that’s when they had big dollars — big, beautiful dollars.
Q So do you — do you advocate cuts? Do you advocate cuts to production? Do you —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, we have a great oil industry, and the oil industry is being ravaged. And, as you know, Russia — and I spoke to President Putin; we had a great call. Russia, Saudi Arabia — I spoke with the Crown Prince; we had a great call. But I think that they will work it out over the next few days. If you ask me, I think it’s just — it’s too simple not to be able to. They both know what they have to do. So I think — I have confidence in both that they’ll be able to work it out.
But it’s — it has ravaged an industry worldwide, not here. I mean, worldwide, the oil industry has been ravaged. So there was a lot of oil production to start off with. And then, on top of it, it got hit with the virus, and business went down 35, 40 percent. So that business is a tough one. And, you know, they have ships all over the sea. I told you yesterday — all over the sea. Massive tankers that they’re using for storage. They go out and they just sit there. There’s no place to go. They have massive amounts.
Now, gasoline is going to be 99 cents a gallon and less. You know that. That’s already starting. It’s popping up. Ninety-nine cents. So that’s like giving a massive tax cut to people of our country. When we try and get the airlines going if — if fuel is costing much less, it helps with getting the airlines, which is always a tough business. Always has been a tough business.
But with that being said, look, I want to get that industry back where it was. We were doing records in that industry also. We want to get it back to where it was.
So I think that Saudi Arabia, Russia, they’re negotiating. They’re talking. And I think they’ll come up with something.
I’m going to meet with the oil companies on Friday. I’m going to meet with independent oil producers also on Friday or Saturday, maybe Sunday. But we’re having a lot of meetings on it. I think I know what to do to solve it. But if — if they’re unable to solve it, then I think I know what to do to solve it.
Q Can you give us a glimpse of what direction —
THE PRESIDENT: We won’t mention it now, but it’s tough. I think I know what to do to solve it. We don’t want to lose our great oil companies. You know, we’re the number one producer of oil in the world. And a month ago, when you said that, it was great. Today, when you say it, it’s not so meaningful.
But I do believe there’s a way that that can be solved or pretty well solved. And I’d rather not do that. I think that Russia and Saudi Arabia, at some point, are going to make a deal in the not-too-distant future because it’s very bad for Russia. It’s very bad for Saudi Arabia. It’s very bad. I mean, it’s bad for both, so I think they’re going to make a deal.
You know, the free market is a wonderful thing. It’s amazing how it can work. But I think they’re going to make a deal.
Yeah. Yeah, please. In the back.
Q Mr. President, a couple of questions. One for you, one for Mr. Wolf, if possible. Over 5 million immigrants in this country do pay taxes through their ID numbers, yet they will not receive any money in their stimulus package. And no undocumented immigrant will receive any aid from the government during this crisis. How do you suppose they survive during the COVID-19?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, you’re saying “undocumented,” meaning they came in illegally. And a lot of people would say we have a lot of citizens right now that won’t be working. So, what are you going to do? It’s a tough thing. It’s a very terrible — it’s a very sad question, I must be honest with you. But they came in illegally. And we have a lot of people that are citizens of our country that won’t be able to have jobs.
Now, I do think once we get rid of the virus, I think we’re going to have a boom economy. I think it’s going to go up rather quickly. Maybe very quickly. And maybe slowly. But it’s going to go up, and it’ll all come back. And I think it’s actually going to come back stronger than what it was because of the stimulus.
But it’s a — it’s a really sad situation, and we are working on it. I will tell you — I’m not going to give you a hard and fast answer because I just want to tell you, it’s something I think about and it’s something we’re working on.
Q Can I ask a question of Mr. Wolf?
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Mr. President. A question for Dr. Fauci. Looking beyond, when we’re on the other side of this curve, are we looking at living with some sort of social distancing guidelines essentially until there’s treatment or a vaccine? For example, people looking forward to the summer talk about, you know, going to baseball games, going to concerts. We have political conventions over the summer. Are things like that possible or safe without a vaccine or a treatment in place?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, I think if we get to the part of the curve that Dr. Birx showed yesterday when it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time, I think it makes sense that you’re going to have to relax social distancing.
The one thing we hopefully would have in place, and I believe we will have in place, is a much more robust system to be able to identify someone who’s infected, isolate them, and then do contact tracing. Because if you have a really good program of containment that prevents you from ever having to get into mitigation — we’re in mitigation right now. That’s what the social and physical distancing is.
The ultimate — the ultimate solution to a virus that might keep coming back would be a vaccine. In fact, I was on the weekly conference call with the WHO-sponsored group of all the health leaders in the world who are dealing with this. And we all came to the agreement that we may have cycling with another season. We’ll be much better prepared. We likely will have interventions. But the ultimate game changer in this will be a vaccine, the same way a vaccine for other diseases, that were scourges in the past, that now we don’t even worry.
THE PRESIDENT: And, Tony, how are they — how are they doing with the vaccines, Tony?
DR. FAUCI: I mean, the vaccine is — is, as I said, it’s on target. We’re still in phase one. There were three doses that we had to test. We’ve been through the first two doses. We’re on the highest dose now.
When we get that data — it’ll take a few months to get the data to feel confident to go to the phase two. And then a few months from now, we’ll be in phase two. And I think we’re right on target for the year to a year and a half.
Q And do you mind me asking: You and Dr. Birx, have either of you received threats of any kind? Or have you been given a security detail, given that you’ve been out here every day on camera, speaking?
DR. FAUCI: Well, I mean, I — anything that has to do with security detail, I’d have to have you refer that question to the Inspector General of HHS rather than my answer that.
Q Can I follow up on testing, Dr. Fauci?
THE PRESIDENT: He doesn’t need security. Everybody loves him. Besides, they’d be in big trouble if they ever attacked.
You know, he was a great basketball player. Did anybody know that? He was a little on the short side for the NBA, but he was talented. And he — he won a game. I read the story. He won a game that was unwinnable against a great team. And his whole team said, “We can’t beat this team.” And he went in and they won the game. Right? That was a couple of years ago, but —
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, a few years ago.
THE PRESIDENT: The head never changes. (Laughs.) The attitude never changes.
Q Could I — could I ask Dr. Fauci —
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, please.
Q — because I know he loves being up behind the podium so much.
THE PRESIDENT: He does. (Laughter.)
Q Like pulling teeth; like going to the dentist.
I don’t want to hit you with everything that’s coming along, but a lot of people who are watching television today heard from a researcher named Dr. Jacob Glanville who’s come up with a potential antibody therapy that he has given to USAMRIID. Just wanting to know if you know anything about this; what you might be able to tell people at home about it who have seen it.
DR. FAUCI: You know, John, I don’t know specifically this individual what they’re doing, but I can tell you there’s a lot of activity that is centered around a passive transfer of antibodies in the form of convalescent plasma, one. The number is to get immune globulin that you precipitate out of the plasma, and another is monoclonal antibody.
It’s based on the same principle of if you have a protective antibody, passive transfer that could provide not only protection, prophylactically, but also treatment. This is an old concept. In fact, immunology was born decades and decades and decades ago with the concept of giving passive transfer of serum to an individual to protect them from an infection.
So it’s — I wouldn’t be surprised if he and a number of other people are pursuing this. It’s the right thing to do.
Q Can I follow up on antibody testing please, Dr. Fauci? At what point can we, as a country, expect there to be a widespread antibody testing so we know exactly what we’re dealing with here, as well as other questions such as, you know, when can people, who are deemed to be healthy, donate blood, for example?
DR. FAUCI: Okay. So when you talk about antibody testing, there are a couple of things that you want to do. You want to find out if someone has been infected and whether or not they’re going to ultimately wind up being protected.
Antibody testing right now is not the first thing on our priority. It’s something that we need to do is testing to see if someone is infected.
It is very important, ultimately, to be able to get a feel for what the penetrance of the infection was in society for a number of reasons. You get a better feel of what the impact has been, but also you get a better feel of what the herd immunity would be.
So I can foresee, in the future, that when we get the facility, which we’ll have for sure — I mean, ultimately, you can get a test that could do this reasonably easy — and do the kind of what we call SIRO surveillance study; this is very analogous — Dr. Birx and I were talking about that a lot. And that is: Back in the day, when she and I were both doing the HIV/AIDS issues back when we first discovered the virus in ‘83 and we had an antibody test in 1985, we found out by SIRO surveillance representative in different populations that we were dealing with the tip of the iceberg when we saw individuals who were the ones who actually got infected. It gave us a really good feel for how many people are infected, how many are doing well, and how many are getting ill.
I foresee that we’ll have that same sort of information, which will be important information. But right now, that’s not our immediate problem.
Q I know it’s not your priority but can you give a sense of whether it will happen this year —
THE PRESIDENT: Deborah — yes — yes, go ahead.
DR. BIRX: Let me just follow up with that because I think, as I discussed before, we had great — I just want to thank all the epidemiologists and the scientists out there who worked with us over the last four weeks on models. They really — many came forward and really supported us.
Right now we’re in talks with a whole series of universities. We have the most brilliant scientists in the world in our universities in state after state. Some of them public health universities, some of them basic science. All of them have received NIH grants for HIV or other development of assays in the past.
I’ve talked to a lot of them over the last few days to really ask them to develop these simple ELISA tests that could be used rapidly in their healthcare centers. Because immediately, with a — it’s easy to do; we’ve all developed ELISAs — so in a day or two after development, they could screen their entire hospital. I think that would be very reassuring to the healthcare workers who have been on the front line. We worry about them every day.
And so I really called on every university in every state to develop ELISAs. You can buy the antigens and the controls online and really work to test entire healthcare communities in your states and support them that way.
At the same time, we worked on, in Sub-Saharan Africa, what we call dried blood spots. So we’re looking at: Could you use that in a community while we work on the point-of-care test, where you just dot blood onto this paper and then that can go into the lab and be analyzed. That would allow us to look in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities immediately.
And then, finally, we’ve reached out to the developers of the rapid test — the ones who developed it for malaria, the ones that developed them for HIV; it’s exactly the same concept and process — to ask them to rapidly develop these tests because I think we owe it to the frontline healthcare providers not only to provide them RNA tests, but many of them have been on the front line now for four weeks; may have become exposed. We now know there’s asymptomatic.
And I think really being able to tell them — the peace of mind that would come from knowing you already were infected, you have antibody, you’re safe from reinfection, 99.9 percent of the time. And so this, I think, would be very reassuring to our frontline healthcare workers. And our universities can do that by Friday.
So I’m putting that challenge out to them, to really work on that and do that. That’s what we did in the early days. We had ELISAs up and running within days of having the antigen. And so this is what’s really possible. So we’re not waiting. We’re asking for help now.
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