At a surprise press briefing Friday at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., President Trump said his audience of well-to-do supporters was involved in a “peaceful protest” and therefore did not need to adhere to state coronavirus guidelines prohibiting large gatherings.
Trump was asked about his earlier assertion that the pandemic was “disappearing” by a reporter who noted that the crowd in attendance seemed to be violating New Jersey restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus.
“You’re wrong on that because it’s a political activity and they have exceptions, political activity and it’s also a peaceful protest,” Trump responded.
Before the hastily called news conference began, members of Trump’s private club filed inside the room where the president was to speak, most of them not wearing masks.
Country club members awaiting the president pic.twitter.com/cm9FOvtoC9
— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) August 7, 2020
Shortly before the president took to the podium, staffers distributed face masks to the attendees, many of whom had already been standing shoulder-to-shoulder inside for approximately half an hour.
As of Friday night, more than 161,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 4.9 million people here. This week New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy retightened restrictions on indoor gatherings in the state following a recent surge in coronavirus cases. The new guidelines prohibit indoor gatherings of more than 25 people.
“To me they pretty much look like they all have, pretty much all have masks on,” Trump continued. “You know you have an exclusion in the law. It says peaceful protest or political activity, right?”
In remarks ahead of questions from the press, Trump floated the idea of signing executive orders to extend unemployment insurance should a deal not be reached with Democrats in Congress, as well as one guaranteeing that insurance companies cover preexisting medical conditions, something that the Affordable Care Act already put in place.
The crowd at the event was largely silent as Trump spoke, but came to life when he suggested that they were actually there to protest what the president calls the “fake news.”
“I’d call it peaceful protests because they heard you were coming up and they know the news is fake,” Trump said to the applause of many of his supporters. “They understand it better than anybody.”