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Trump returns to briefing podium with ‘mixed messaging’ on pandemic

President Trump returned to the podium Tuesday afternoon to resume briefings about the coronavirus pandemic. Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s “mixed messages” about the extent of the national COVID-19 crisis, plus what the Department of Homeland Security is saying about its controversial response to protests occurring in cities like Portland, Oregon.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to President Trump's agenda.

    He returned to the lectern in the White House press room this evening to give a COVID update.

    Here now, our Yamiche Alcindor.

    So, Yamiche, I know you were watching and listening. What is the news from what the president said?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president held a briefing that was filled with mixed messaging.

    He had a stark warning about the virus, but he also was sharing some misleading information.

    So, the president said that things are going to get far worse before they get better, which is a stark change, because he has been downplaying the virus, saying that it would disappear. But he said that with using notes.

    And minutes later, without notes, he said, actually, it will disappear. And there's no evidence, Judy, that that will happen.

    Another thing is, the president did an about-face when it came to facial coverings.

    Here's what he said specifically on the issue of facial coverings":

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're asking everybody that, when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They will have an effect. And we need everything we can get.

    And think about patriotism. Maybe it is — it helps. It helps. Now, we have experts that have said in the recent past that masks aren't necessarily good to wear. You know that.

    But now they have changed their mind. If they change their mind, that's good enough for me. So I wear it, when appropriate.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, the president is right that health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, has changed. At first, they were saying don't use facial coverings. Now they saying are.

    But the important thing is that the president was slower than his health officials to adopt the idea of wearing masks. And, as a result, he only wore masks in public a few weeks ago.

    The other thing to note is that the president said that governors don't need anything, when, in fact, our reporting at "PBS NewsHour" shows that governors specifically asked Vice President Mike Pence for equipment and testing issues. They also want resources to try to open up schools more safely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, separately, Yamiche, another issue, we have been reporting on the Trump administration sending federal agents into Portland, Oregon, to deal with protests there and some violence.

    What are you learning about that tonight?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    There's been a lot of backlash that from — that the Department of Homeland Security is receiving because they have been sending federal agents into Portland, Oregon.

    People say that this is really targeting peaceful protesters. I attended a briefing today with the department secretary, Chad Wolf, and questioned him specifically about the governor of Oregon saying that she spoke to him directly and asked him to remove those officials.

    Here's what he said.

  • Acting Secretary Chad Wolf:

    Well, what I would say is, if you did your job from a local perspective, we wouldn't be there, just like we're not in any other city with this type of deployment force having to protect other courthouses.

    The fact that we are there is because local officials are not taking action. They are not protecting. They're not helping to address the situation. I think that is the key difference.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, there you hear him saying that the governor and local officials are not doing their jobs.

    He says that federal officials are protecting federal buildings, and specifically the courthouse there. But there are a lot of people say that this is really a violation of the law and the Constitution here.

    The other thing to note is that he was defending officers not having their names on their uniforms, as well as using unmarked cars. He said that that's really being done to protect the officers.

    But there are a lot of people saying that that is not the behavior that should be happening on U.S. soil, when it comes to largely peaceful protests.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, very quickly, Yamiche, the White House today threatening to veto the Defense Authorization Act coming out of the House of Representatives.

    What are you learning about that?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    This is a major defense bill that sets forth the funding priorities for the Department of Defense.

    The White House is threatening to veto because the president has — is taking issue with the fact that the bill is forcing military bases and military installations to rename bases that are named after Confederate figures.

    So, the president is saying that he doesn't want to back this bill. The House in the last hour passed a veto-proof version of that bill.

    And the reporting at "PBS NewsHour" that we have is that that's a veto-proof bill. So, the president, even if he slows it down, he won't be able to stop it, per se.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All that is very important.

    Yamiche, thank you for your reporting.

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