OXON HILL, Md. — Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, on Friday blamed the media for exaggerating the seriousness of coronavirus because “they think this will bring down the president, that’s what this is all about.”
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists, Mr. Mulvaney played down concerns about the virus that is spreading around the globe and panicking investors.
Mr. Mulvaney said the administration took “extraordinary steps four or five weeks ago,” to prevent the spread of the virus when it declared a rare public health emergency and barred entry by most foreign citizens who had recently visited China.
“Why didn’t you hear about it?” Mr. Mulvaney said of travel restrictions that were widely covered in the news media. “What was still going on four or five weeks ago? Impeachment, that’s all the press wanted to talk about.”
The news media has been covering the global spread of coronavirus for months.
But Mr. Mulvaney claimed that the news media was too preoccupied covering impeachment, he said, “because they thought it would bring down the president.”
The media’s focus switched to the coronavirus for the same reason, he continued.
“The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be the thing that brings down the president,” he added. “That’s what this is all about it.”
Following the president’s lead, Mr. Mulvaney also brushed off concerns over the virus; there have been 60 cases identified in the United States.
“The flu kills people,” he said. “This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS, it’s not MERS. It’s not a death sentence, it’s not the same as the Ebola crisis.”
Mr. Mulvaney also criticized the news media for generally not wanting to portray Mr. Trump in a positive light. But he chose a bizarre example, claiming it refuses to cover what he described as Mr. Trump’s loving relationship with his 13-year-old son, Barron.
He said Mr. Trump is in frequent contact with his youngest son, calling to check in on him and let him know of his whereabouts. But, Mr. Mulvaney said, “the press would never show you that because it doesn’t fit that image of him, the press wants him to be this terrible monster.”
Mr. Mulvaney’s decision to discuss Barron Trump was curious, especially when Melania Trump, the first lady, and senior White House officials have gone to great lengths to make sure he enjoys the privacy afforded to other children of presidents growing up in the uncomfortable spotlight of the White House. The White House press corps has generally agreed to grant Barron Trump the same privacy.
“He’s huge, but he’s still very young,” Mr. Mulvaney said of Barron, who is sometimes seen boarding Air Force One with his parents, but who often departs the plane after his father to avoid being photographed. “He was 10 or something like that when the president was elected.”
Mr. Mulvaney, who was interviewed onstage by Stephen Moore, whose expected nomination by the president to the Federal Reserve Board was withdrawn over concerns about his treatment of women, also asserted that Mr. Trump did not sleep on the overnight plane trip home from India or during the day before his news conference on coronavirus Wednesday night.
“He said, ‘I’ve only got eight years, I’m going to get as much out of it as I can,’” Mr. Mulvaney said.