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White House defends Trump's use of term as not racist

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeatedly defended President TrumpDonald TrumpDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Biden on refugee cap: 'We couldn't do two things at once' Taylor Greene defends 'America First' effort, pushes back on critics MORE for describing the coronavirus as the “kung flu” despite widespread criticism that it is racist.

McEnany deflected questions on the subject as she argued that Trump was referring to the virus by “its place of origin.”

She did not directly respond to questions that said the racist term was different than describing it as the China or Wuhan virus. 

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Trump used the phrase to describe the coronavirus during a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday.

McEnany denied Monday that Trump uses racist phrases and said he didn’t believe using the term was offensive.

“He is linking it to its place of origin,” McEnany told reporters.

Civil liberties organizations have warned that the use of the term could cause acts of racism against Asian Americans.

Asked what the president’s message is to Asian Americans offended by his use of the phrase, McEnany said Trump has “said very clearly that it is important to protect our Asian community in the U.S. and all over the world.”

“They are amazing people, and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way shape or form,” McEnany said. “It’s not a discussion about Asian Americans, who the president values and praises as citizens of this country. It is an indictment of China for letting this virus get here.”

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The White House press secretary also noted that The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major news outlets have used “Chinese coronavirus” and “Chinese virus” to refer to the coronavirus, drawing an equivalency between those terms and the one used by Trump on Saturday night. No major news outlet has referred to the coronavirus using the president's choice of words.

“It’s a disease, without question, has more names than any disease in history. I can name kung flu. I can name 19 different versions of names,” Trump said during the rally, prompting cheers from the crowd. 

An unnamed White House official reportedly referred to the virus using the same term in a conversation with CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang earlier this year. At the time, White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayKellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign Mark Zuckerberg, meet Jean-Jacques Rousseau? The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes MORE said using such a term would be “highly offensive.”

Asked about Conway’s own remarks in March, McEnany said Trump does not believe it is offensive to use the term to denote the origins of the virus.

“The president does not believe it is offensive to note that this virus came from China and to stand up for our U.S. military, who China is making an active effort to completely defame, and that is unacceptable to the president,” McEnany said, referring to a Chinese Embassy official who falsely claimed that U.S. service members brought the virus to China.

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, sometime late last year.

Trump, who initially praised China for its handling of the virus, has increasingly sought to blame Beijing for allowing the virus to spread globally and not being forthcoming with information about the virus.

Meanwhile, Trump has come under scrutiny for his own minimization of the threat from the virus early on, and his administration has been faulted for delays in testing that cost critical time.

In March, Trump began calling the virus the "Chinese virus" but backed off after outcry. He also used "Chinese virus" to describe COVID-19 during Saturday's rally.