President TrumpDonald TrumpStowaway found in landing gear of plane after flight from Guatemala to Miami Kushner looking to Middle East for investors in new firm: report GOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips MORE on Tuesday claimed that he "up-played" the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, despite telling Bob Woodward in March that he "wanted to always play it down."
The president was asked during an ABC News town hall in Pennsylvania why he minimized COVID-19 when the virus has proved to be particularly lethal for communities of color.
"I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action," Trump said. "My action was very strong."
Trump cited his move to curtail travel to the United States from China in January and his decision to bar most travel from Europe in March. The president referred to them as bans, though neither was a blanket ban.
"So that was called action, not with the mouth but in actual fact," Trump said. "We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on."
"Whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important," Trump continued. "So we saved a lot of lives when we did that."
In a special @ABC2020, Pres. Trump disputes uncommitted voter who asked why he downplayed a virus that has disproportionately affected communities of color: “I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong.”— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 16, 2020
Watch tonight at 9|8c on @ABC: https://t.co/aGDnXBiKrq pic.twitter.com/Mklmyvwogd
The president's insistence that he took the virus seriously contradicts his own comments, made on tape to Woodward on March 19, that he intentionally downplayed the significance of the COVID-19 outbreak to avoid creating panic.
“I wanted to, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said in the recording, which was released last week ahead of the release of Woodward's book.
Trump also told Woodward in a Feb. 7 conversation that COVID-19 is "more deadly than even your strenuous flus."
Asked about those comments last week, Trump doubled down on his claim that it was important to project calm when talking about the virus.
The U.S. has reported more coronavirus infections and deaths than any other country in the world, with roughly 6 million cases and nearly 196,000 deaths.
Critics have seized on Trump's dismissiveness toward the threat of the virus in January, February and March, when he claimed the U.S. had the matter under control and compared COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.