WASHINGTON — ”I feel good about it.”
That’s how President Trump described an untested drug to combat the novel coronavirus, which he hailed as a potential “game-changer” despite pushback in real time on national television from the nation’s top virologist, who was standing right next to Trump at the press conference.
“Without seeing too much, I'm probably more of a fan of that than maybe anybody, but I'm a big fan. We'll see what happens,” Trump said about the anti-malaria drug chloroquine. “That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy.”
That remark came during a remarkable press conference Friday and just a minute after Dr. Anthony Fauci, standing by Trump’s side, warned a reporter to be careful about calling the drug “fairly effective” because it hasn’t been tested in a clinical trial as a treatment for COVID-19.
Fauci, who as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been leading government efforts to fight the disease, warned against overstating hopes that the drug could be effective against the pandemic.
He said there’s been no clinical testing of the use of the drug, and that any evidence it could be useful is “anecdotal.” And while Fauci and Trump strained to insist they were mostly on the same page about the drug, it was clear that Trump was looking to tout a potential “game-changer,” as he put it, while Fauci sought to get the facts straight.
But Trump could not be dissuaded. He continued to talk about his hunches and feelings about the drug as Fauci looked on, a pained expression on his face.
“We only disagree a little bit. I disagree,” Trump said. “It may work and it may not work. And I agree with the doctor when he said it may work, may not work. I feel good about it. It's totally, it's just a feeling. You know, I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. And we're going to see, you're going to see soon enough.”
Fauci tried to square the circle, downplaying his disagreements with Trump while warning that there’s no data to show “it’s truly effective and safe under the conditions of COVID-19.”
Trump said the U.S. has ordered “millions of units” of the drug from Bayer and other large pharmaceutical companies, and that “I've seen things that are impressive and we'll see, we're going to know soon.”
“The FDA is working very hard to get it out,” Trump claimed, saying that the drug was safe — while Fauci cautioned that since it hasn’t been tested on coronavirus patients, the risks are unknown.
“Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot. Let’s see what happens,” Trump said, after telling NBC News’ Peter Alexander “You’re a terrible reporter” who “ought to be ashamed of yourself” for pushing him on the critical issue.
It’s the second day in a row that Trump has grossly misdescribed evidence that the drug can safely and effectively be used to treat the novel coronavirus.
Trump returned to a familiar refrain on the drug: “What the hell do you have to lose?”
Stocks moved lower as the president broke into a fight with a reporter about his own medical expertise on national television. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which had been modestly higher earlier in the morning, moved into negative territory as Trump began lashing out.
Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)