Conway defends Trump's COVID-19 language after saying it was 'offensive'

White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne ConwayChristie says he was unable to reach Trump on Jan. 6 Watchdog cites 13 Trump officials who violated Hatch Act before 2020 election Ethics watchdog accuses Psaki of violating Hatch Act MORE on Wednesday defended President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' MORE's repeated use of the term "kung flu" to describe the coronavirus despite previously telling reporters the term was "highly offensive."

Reporters pressed Conway on her reaction after Trump publicly used the racist nickname for the virus that causes COVID-19 for the second time in four days. She had previously weighed in after an Asian American CBS News reporter said in March that an unnamed White House official used the phrase.

"My reaction is that the president has made very clear that he wants everybody to understand, and I think many Americans do understand, that the virus originated in China," Conway said Wednesday.

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Conway chided the CBS reporter, Weijia Jiang, for declining to publicly name the White House official who she said used the term earlier this year. When Jiang pointed out that the term "kung flu" does not explicitly reference China, Conway defended the president's use of the term. 

"How do you know that people aren’t anticipating that or not connecting that?" Conway said. "While the president is saying it, he’s also saying this virus came from China."

Conway said she privately counsels Trump to the best of her ability, but would not say whether she had advised him against using the offensive term.

Her comments on Tuesday marked something of an about-face from March, when Jiang first alleged she'd heard a White House official call the coronavirus the "kung flu." Conway at the time urged the journalist to name the individual but acknowledged that using the phrase was "wrong." 

"That’s highly offensive, so you should tell us all who it is," Conway said.

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Trump on Tuesday used the phrase "kung flu" during a speech to young supporters in Arizona. The crowd erupted with applause upon hearing the term. The president first referenced the nickname publicly during a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., last weekend.

The use of the terms have outraged critics, who note that the use of racist language can lead to violence against Asian Americans, who have faced increasing instances of discrimination in the months since the coronavirus outbreak started.

While Trump and his allies have denied the phrases are racist, top public health officials in his administration have opted against using similar terms.