Trump Said He 'Bailed Out' of Oval Office Because Someone Sneezed amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Even as he publicly downplayed COVID-19, President Donald Trump was alert enough about the coronavirus disease that he had had a reaction to someone else's sneeze in the Oval Office, he told a reporter at the time.
That's according to a new recording released by Bob Woodward and played on Monday's episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
According to Woodward, who interviewed Trump extensively for a new book — which Trump has attacked — the president recalled in an April phone call an incident in which someone sneezed, incidentally, and everyone else immediately noticed.
"Bob, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't believe it," Trump is heard saying on the tape of their April 13 interview, referring to the coronavirus.
"I was in the White House a couple of days ago, meeting with 10 people in the Oval Office and a guy sneezed — innocently, not a horrible, you know, just a sneeze — the entire room bailed out, okay?" the president continued. "Including me, by the way."
Host Stephen Colbert, in response to the tape, noted on Monday's show that Trump appeared to be "making light" with his story but added that "at the heart of that is something extraordinary shocking."
Woodward wondered if "someone sneezed in the front row [at a campaign rally], if Trump would bail out again and get out of the way."
A self-professed germaphobe, Trump has reportedly been cautious about hand-washing and sanitizing since long before coronavirus made its way around the globe.
In a 2019 Politico article, a former campaign official was quoted as saying, “If you’re the perpetrator of a cough or of a sneeze or any kind of thing that makes you look sick, you get that look. You get the scowl."
Trump's April conversation with Woodward came around the same time that the president was publicly pressuring governors to open businesses and schools that closed to slow the virus — and two months before he held a June campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which officials believe was probably linked to new infections.
Woodward has said he interviewed the president some 18 times and recorded many of the conversations while researching his latest book, Rage. Audio of those conversations, which has trickled out in recent weeks as the book neared its Tuesday release date, has underlined Trump's often contradictory rhetoric about the coronavirus.
In the most notable moment, he admitted to Woodward in mid-March that "I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
Trump has since insisted the book is a "FAKE" and the White House argued his private thoughts were not at odds with what he told the public.
As COVID-19 cases were first confirmed in the U.S. in early 2020, Trump predicted that the virus would "no longer be a problem" by April.
Privately, though, he was telling Woodward otherwise. On Feb. 7, he said in a taped conversation that the virus was "more deadly than even your strenuous flu."
A month later, Trump was telling the American people the opposite, tweeting on March 9: "So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. … At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!"
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