President Donald Trump was still struggling to fully grasp the severity of the coronavirus pandemic during a task force meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday, a source familiar with the meeting told CNN.
“He still doesn’t get it,” the source said. “He does not get it.”
Trump’s meeting with the task force in the Oval Office was his first in-depth meeting with the panel of his top health experts since April. Trump tweeted photos of the task force members, some wearing face masks, surrounding the Resolute Desk Tuesday afternoon.
During the meeting, officials on the task force continued to have trouble convincing Trump to take the pandemic more seriously, the source said.
As some members of the task force tried to stress the dire nature of the situation to the President, the source said Trump repeatedly attempted to change the subject.
“He starts talking about something else,” the source said.
The White House disputed the source’s account of the meeting, with communications director Alyssa Farah saying: “The President is highly engaged on the fight to defeat Covid and well briefed on the virus.”
“He’s leading our nation through this crisis and we’d point to the tens of millions of tests we’ve produced, the massive advancements on therapeutics, and our race toward a vaccine,” she said in a statement.
But the source said Trump’s mood was noticeably less jovial during the meeting. In past task force meetings with Trump, the source said the President appeared to be in a much more jocular mood. That was not the case in the Oval Office on Tuesday evening.
“His mood lately is not a happy mood,” the source said.
One other difference, the source noted, is how Trump and Vice President Mike Pence each respond to the information relayed to them during meetings with the task force.
“He gets it,” the source said of Pence. But the source added Pence appears to be “conflicted” in his interactions with the experts on the task force, indicating at times that he understands their concerns while tempering his comments to make sure he remains in lockstep with Trump.
In public, the President has been emphatic that his administration should get more credit for the work it has done.
On “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning, Trump highlighted the US’ economic return and once again claimed that the virus was going to “go away.”
“We’ve done it right,” Trump said of the US’ handling of the pandemic. Now (our economic bounceback) looks like a very strong ‘V,’ based on the all of the numbers we’re getting.”
He added: “My view is the schools should open. This thing’s going away. It will go away like things go away.”
The President has also maintained that the pandemic is under control, while his health experts, including task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, have underscored that the coronavirus is now widespread in rural and urban areas around the country.
After Birx warned about the coronavirus’ spread, Trump claimed that the coronavirus task force coordinator “took the bait” and “hit us.”
The source familiar with the meeting told CNN there was little tension left over from Trump’s recent criticism of Birx. Both Trump and Birx appeared to be putting the matter behind them, the source added.
When Trump was asked Tuesday what he meant in his tweet criticizing Birx, the President said: “I’m just referring to the fact that I thought that, really, they should say the job we’ve done … I think we’re just doing very well.”
He also falsely asserted in an Axios on HBO interview aired Monday that the virus is “under control.” But when confronted with the fact that about a thousand Americans are dying each day from the virus, Trump responded: “They are dying. That’s true. And you — it is what it is.”
“But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it,” he added.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.