Trump: 'I don't kid' on coronavirus testing

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE said Tuesday that he doesn’t “kid” when asked whether he was joking when he said at a campaign rally that he asked aides to slow down coronavirus testing.

“I don’t kid,” Trump said when asked whether the remarks were made in jest, undermining statements from his own White House that the comments were a joke. Trump also told CBN News in an interview a day prior that he did not ask staff to slow down testing but did not deny doing so in the exchange with reporters on Tuesday.

“Let me make it clear. We have got the greatest testing program anywhere in the world. We test better than anybody in the world. Our tests are the best in the world and we have the most of them,” Trump said, adding that more tests allows the United States to detect more cases. “By having more cases it sounds bad, but actually what it is is finding more people.”

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The president said he believed testing was a “double-edged sword,” echoing his comments at Saturday’s rally in Tulsa, Okla., that sparked controversy. Trump described testing as having both advantages and disadvantages.

“Testing is a double-edged sword. In one way, it tells you you have cases, in another way you find out where cases are and you do a good job,” the president told reporters.

Asked about the president’s remarks during congressional testimony later Tuesday, top health officials including Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciCNN's Burnett presses Navarro on hydroxychloroquine in combative interview: 'You're an economist, not a scientist' Overnight Health Care: Fauci says family has faced threats | Moderna to charge to a dose for its vaccine | NYC adding checkpoints to enforce quarantine Fauci says family has faced threats, harassment amid pandemic MORE and CDC Director Robert Redfield said they were never directed to slow down testing. The officials also underscored the importance of widespread testing and said the U.S. would continue to work to expand testing capabilities.

“I know for sure to my knowledge that none of us had ever been told to slow down on testing. That just is a fact,” Fauci told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “It’s the opposite, we are going to be doing more testing, not less.”

Trump was scrutinized for such remarks at his Tulsa campaign rally and for telling his staff to “slow the testing down, please.” 

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White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who told reporters Monday that Trump’s comments were “made in jest,” said later Tuesday that Trump was using “sarcasm” at the rally to make a “serious point” about testing leading to more cases.  

“What he was making was a serious point, and that's why he said, "I don't kid,’” McEnany told reporters aboard Air Force One. “He was noting he was making a serious point, but he was using sarcasm to do that at the rally. And the serious point he was making is that when you test more people, you identify more cases.”

Vice President Pence defended Trump’s remarks on a call with governors Monday and described them as comments made in passing.

Trump has repeatedly described testing of having downsides in media interviews and tweets in recent days. He told CBN News on Monday that widespread testing makes the U.S. “in a way, look bad but actually we're doing the right thing." He also said during the same interview that his remarks at the rally were “semi-tongue-in-cheek,” though his remarks on Tuesday appeared to contradict his earlier statement.

The U.S. has performed more than 27 million tests, according to the Covid Tracking Project. It currently leads the globe in coronavirus cases with roughly 2.3 million positive tests.

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Several states are experiencing spikes in coronavirus cases after relaxing restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus in order to allow businesses to reopen. Cases began to rise nationally over the weekend after plateauing, with states including Arizona, Texas and Florida experiencing severe spikes.

The White House has sought to minimize concerns about the new spikes, attributing them in part to an increase testing, though health experts say that the increased cases cannot be attributed to an expansion of testing alone.

This story was updated at 12:04 p.m.