Coronavirus government response updates: Trump defends taking unproven drug, attacks study finding dangers

Posted on: May 19th, 2020 by ABC News No Comments

Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBy LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump is facing continued questions Tuesday after he said he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug he’s touted as a possible “game changer” treatment for COVID-19, for about a week and a half, though he said he has “zero symptoms” and despite safety concerns.

“I’m taking the zinc and the hydroxy. And all I can tell you is, so far I seem to be okay,” Trump said Monday at a meeting with restaurant executives. “I get a lot of positive calls about it.”

When asked about the president using a drug that the Food and Drug Administration has recently warned against taking “outside of a hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was “not a good idea.”

“I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, ‘morbidly obese,’ they say,” the California Democrat told CNN.

President Trump met with Republicans senators on Capitol Hill at their weekly policy lunch, as the Trump administration and Congress weigh another round of economic relief.

Here are Tuesday’s most significant developments in Washington:

Trump defends taking unproven drug, attacks study finding dangers

After finishing a lunch with GOP senators on Capitol Hill, an unmasked President Trump told reporters they all had “a great meeting.”

“We have a lot of very positive things happening, both in terms of the country, in terms of the election that is coming up,” Trump said. “The priority we have is a priority for the country — and bringing it back. I use the expression ‘transition to greatness.’ We are going to have a really good third quarter. It’s already happening.”

Trump, who notably has a common form of heart disease, defended his use of hydroxychloroquine when asked if it was okay for him to promote when health experts, including the FDA, have warned of serious side effects.

“Well, I work with doctors, and if you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old. Almost dead. It was a Trump enemy statement,” the president said, speaking of a study out of Department of Veterans Affairs which which found that hydroxychloroquine, combined with or without azithromycin, may actually increase overall mortality in COVID-19 patients.

He went on to cite other reports that he says support his belief that hydroxychloroquine is effective.

“Now, if you look at some of the reports that came out from Italy, that came out from France, that came out from others, a lot of our front-line workers take it because of possibly — and I think it does — but you know, people are going to have to make up their own mind,” Trump continued. “Plus, it doesn’t hurt people. It has been out on the market for 60 or 65 years for malaria, lupus and other things.”

Several health experts, however, have warned that the drug could have dangerous side effects like causing irregular heart rhythms.

The VA analysis Trump mentioned, which he has called the “only negative” to the drug, was published before peer review on medRxiv and analyzed 368 male patients with a median age over 65 in the VA health system diagnosed with COVID-19.

“In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone,” the studies’ authors wrote.

There were 70 deaths in the study with the lowest mortality rate among those not treated with hydroxychloroquine at 18 deaths, compared with 27 deaths in the hydroxychloroquine alone group and 25 deaths in those taking hydroxychloroquine plus zinc — a combination Trump has endorsed.

The president went on to claim that science around the drug has become politicalized.

“I think it gives you an additional level of safety, but you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it. Many front-line workers won’t go there unless they have the hydroxy. And so again, this is an individual decision to make, but it has had a great reputation, and if it was somebody else other than me, people would say gee, isn’t that smart?” Trump said.

The FDA is allowing frontline workers to use hydroxychloroquine as part of controlled, clinical trials, but there are still no FDA-approved preventative medications or vaccines for COVID-19.

Asked if he had a response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting he’s “morbidly obese,” Trump called her a “waste of time” before later adding she’s a “sick woman” with “a lot of mental problems.”

Unlike Trump, Pence is not taking hydroxychloroquine

While President Trump is taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic, his vice president is not.

A spokesperson to Pence confirmed Tuesday he is not taking the drug.

The vice president first confirmed that he is not taking the drug in a yet-to-air Fox News interview after ignoring repeated shouted questions from reporters on the topic.

It has now been 11 days since the vice president’s press secretary tested positive for the virus.

Trump says he’s going after Virginia’s ‘crazy governor’ at event on American farmers, ranchers and the food supply chain

The Department of Agriculture has begun to purchase and distribute $3 billion of agricultural products to those in need through a “Food Box Distribution Program,” President Trump announced at a White House event Tuesday.

“We are providing $19 billion to support our nation’s agricultural producers, maintain the health of our critical food supply chains and provide food assistance to American families,” Trump said, speaking to the overall funding, authorized by the CARES Act, that the food box program is housed under. “You could go back to Abraham Lincoln. There is no president that has treated the farmers like Trump.”

Trump said the USDA is working with local food distribution companies — “many of which are small businesses adversely impacted also by this horrible plague” — to deliver the food and products bought back from American farmers. He first tweeted about the program on May 9.


Starting early next week, at my order, the USA will be purchasing, from our Farmers, Ranchers & Specialty Crop Growers, 3 Billion Dollars worth of Dairy, Meat & Produce for Food Lines & Kitchens. “FARMERS TO FAMILY FOOD BOX” Great news for all! @SecretarySonny @ZippyDuvall

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 9, 2020


He then called up a handful of farmers and ranchers who praised the president for the program, and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, who called the program “a great cycle,” saying it helps small distributors, farmers and those in need.

Invited to visit Virginia by one potato farmer, Trump said, “Be careful, I might.”

“I’ll be there. We’re gonna, we’re going after Virginia with your crazy governor. We’re going after Virginia. They want to take your second amendment away, you know, that right? You’ll have nobody guarding your potatoes,” the president continued.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and no stranger to the president’s criticism, was quick to fire back, responding to a CBS reporter’s tweet — and included a medical suggestion to Trump.


I grew up on a Virginia farm, Mr. President—our potatoes are fine. And as the only medical doctor among our nation’s governors, I suggest you stop taking hydroxychloroquine.

Let’s all get back to work.

— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) May 19, 2020


“I grew up on a Virginia farm, Mr. President — our potatoes are fine. And as the only medical doctor among our nation’s governors, I suggest you stop taking hydroxychloroquine. Let’s all get back to work,” Northam said on Twitter.

White House press secretary doesn’t know ‘exact rationale’ behind Trump’s use of hydroxychloroquine, Birx appears to ignore question

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said this morning that she didn’t know “the exact rationale” behind President Trump’s decision to take hydroxychloroquine but that “the president just wanted to be transparent about his personal health decision that he made in consultation with his doctor.”

“I don’t have any information about the exact rationale,” she told Fox News when asked for details. “That was a personal deliberation with Dr. Conley and the president.”

McEnany noted that “any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor” and requires a prescription.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House after her interview, McEnany dismissed questions about any vagueness and careful wording of the memo from White House physician Sean Conley released Monday night, saying the purpose “was to give a medical rationale” for the decision for Trump to take it.

“The purpose of this letter was to show that Dr. Conley agreed with the analysis that the benefits outweighed the risk,” she said. “The president should be taken at his word, and the purpose of this letter was to show just that, as it did, the rationale behind it.”

The White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, ignored a question from a reporter this morning on the topic, as she walked by a camera in the White House driveway. She, instead, commented on the weather.


White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx appears to ignore question about Pres. Trump’s use of hydroxychloroquine, an unproven drug he’s touted for COVID-19, instead commenting on the weather.

— ABC News (@ABC) May 19, 2020


ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

Pence meets with Mnuchin, McConnell and McCarthy on Capitol Hill

Nearly two weeks after his press secretary tested positive for COVID-19, Vice President Mike Pence was at the U.S. Capitol building this morning for a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “to discuss COVID-19 and economy,” according to a McConnell spokesperson.

The four were scheduled to meet before Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee.

McConnell was questioned last week if he opposes measures in the new House bill such as direct payments for Americans or hazard pay for essential workers.

“What I’ve said is, we’re taking a look at what we’ve already done. And we’ve added about $3 trillion to the national debt, and assessing the effectiveness of that before deciding to go forward. I’m in discussion, we all are, with the administration. If we reach a decision along with the administration to move to another phase, that’ll be the time to interact with the Democrats,” he said.

ABC News’ Trish Turner

Trump tweets 4-page letter about WHO funding, threatens permanent hold

Citing concerns about what he called the “World Health Organization’s alarming lack of independence from the People’s Republic of China,” President Trump late Monday tweeted out a four-page letter to the WHO director-general saying if the United Nations agency “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of U.S. funding permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”


This is the letter sent to Dr. Tedros of the World Health Organization. It is self-explanatory!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2020


Earlier Monday, Trump said he declined an opportunity to speak to the WHO virtual assembly on the pandemic because “they’ve done a very sad job in the last period of time” and “they are a puppet of China.”

China’s President Xi Jinping did not pass up his chance to address the WHO’s decision-making body. During his remarks, Xi supported an international review after the pandemic ends and also said China would donate $2 billion to global coronavirus aid.

ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

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