September 24, 2020

Trump lied about facing opposition from advisers on Chinese travel ban

  • Veteran journalist Bob Woodward on Monday refuted President Donald Trump’s claims about his administration’s decision to restrict travel from China amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Taking full credit for the move, Trump said that he faced pushback from his top health advisers, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. 
  • But Woodward reports in his new book, “Rage,” that Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar together urged the president to implement the travel restriction in late January. 
  • “Historians are going to be writing about the lost month of February for tens of years,” Woodward said in an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

At least five of President Donald Trump’s top advisers urged him to limit travel from China in late January, despite the president’s repeated claims that he made the decision alone, journalist Bob Woodward reports in a new book.

Woodward writes in his White House exposé “Rage” that health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, advised Trump to institute the travel restriction in a January 31 meeting.

But Trump has said both in public interviews and in a conversation with Woodward that he was the only person in that meeting to support the travel restriction and that his aides actively opposed the move.  

“I had 21 people in my office, in the Oval Office, and of the 21 there was one person that said we have to close it down. That was me,” Trump told Woodward in a March 19 interview. “Nobody wanted it because it was too early.”

But Woodward reports that Trump’s advisers gathered in the White House and laid out a uniform recommendation. 

“I think this is the only way we’ve got to go right now,” Fauci told Trump, according to the book. 

The president’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and the top National Security Council official overseeing Asia, Matthew Pottinger, both agreed with the health experts and urged the president to follow their suggestion. 

“It is one of those shocks for me, having written about nine presidents, that the president of the United States possessed the specific knowledge that could have saved lives,” Woodward said during an interview with Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday morning. “Historians are going to be writing about the lost month of February for tens of years.”

Trump has repeatedly touted his decision to partially restrict travel from China in early February as one of the boldest and most effective measures his administration has taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

“Everybody was against it. Almost everybody, I would say, was just absolutely against it,” Trump said during a March Fox News town hall. “I made a decision to close off to China that was weeks early … And I must say, doctors — nobody wanted to make that decision at the time.” 

Trump then claimed in May that he was “criticized by everybody, including Dr. Fauci” for his decision.

The president has also exaggerated the scope of the travel restriction, describing it as an outright ban when it was only a partial restriction that still allowed thousands of Chinese nationals to travel to the US during the pandemic.

Trump was far from the first world leader to restrict travel from China where the coronavirus outbreak originated late last year. Almost 40 countries had already imposed restrictions by the time he made the call, and several major airlines had also suspended flights from the country. 

The travel restriction, which went into effect on February 2, made exceptions made for immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents and also allowed residents of the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao to travel to the US. About 8,000 people from the Chinese territories came the to US during the first three months after the restriction was imposed, the Associated Press reported. About 27,000 Americans living in China traveled back to the US in February alone, and more than 1,600 of them were not monitored by the US government for Covid-19. 

The New York Times reported that 430,000 people came to the US on direct flights from China between December 31, 2019 and early April. 

Woodward interviewed the president 18 times between December 2019 and July 2020 for his book. In one recorded conversation with Woodward, the president admitted that he intentionally downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus. 

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