The consequences were serious: in the past few days state officials and disinfectant manufacturers have rushed to warn Americans about the dangers of using chemicals or household cleaners in any other manner than what is printed on the label.
“Injecting, ingesting, snorting household cleaners is dangerous,” Ezike warned. “It is not advised and can be deadly.”
Trump’s controversial comments offered an opening to Biden, who weighed in on Twitter: “I can’t believe I have to say this,” Biden tweeted Friday, but please don’t drink bleach.”
In the midst of shifting explanations from the White House about the context of Trump’s remarks in Thursday evening’s briefing, the President hinted Saturday that his days at the briefing room podium might be coming to an end.
In one tweet, Trump questioned the value of holding White House press briefings, saying they are “not worth the time & effort” if the media is going to just ask “nothing but hostile questions.” Trump also noted the “record ratings” for his appearances.
In a subsequent tweet, he tried to rewrite the narrative about his own early skepticism about the origins and potential spread of Covid-19.
“I never said the pandemic was a Hoax! Who would say such a thing?” Trump tweeted Saturday. “I said that the Do Nothing Democrats, together with their Mainstream Media partners, are the Hoax. They have been called out & embarrassed on this, even admitting they were wrong, but continue to spread the lie!”
Shifting explanations from the White House
“I was asking a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it, and it would kill it on the hands, and that would make things much better. That was done in the form of a sarcastic question to the reporters,” Trump said Friday.
During an interview with Fox News, Birx suggested that Trump was simply processing the information from a prior briefing aloud.
“When he gets new information, he likes to talk that through out loud and really have that dialogue — and so that’s what dialogue he was having,” Birx said. “I think he just saw the information at the time, immediately before the press conference, and he was still digesting that information.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the President’s remarks were simply taken out of context.
On Saturday, Trump continued the debate, curiously quibbling with the fact that reporters had recounted his back-and-forth with Birx about the effect of heat, sun and light on the coronavirus, asserting that he was speaking to “our Laboratory expert, not Deborah, about sunlight etc. & Coronavirus.”
Shortly before Trump’s Thursday remarks, he had been briefed by William Bryan, the acting head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, who had presented findings from a study about whether the spread of coronavirus could be slowed by warmer weather.
Bryan summarized the study in the briefing room, also discussing how ultraviolet rays and disinfectants, including bleach and alcohol, may shorten the life of the virus. (Bryan does not have a medical background and is not a scientist).
That seemed to carry Trump’s train of thought toward the notion that disinfectant might be used inside the body: “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said Thursday during the briefing. “Because you see it gets on the lungs and does a tremendous number on the lungs.”
McEnany pushed back on reporters’ questions Saturday over whether the White House was sending mixed messages about the context of the President’s suggestion.
“Taking a sarcastic comment and running with negative headlines is the definition of taking something out of context, so I believe those answers are very much in sync,” she told reporters at the White House.
McEnany would not say whether the President plans to dial back his participation in the coronavirus task force briefings after his abrupt departure from the briefing room Friday.
“I leave that to the President,” she said. “That’s entirely his decision, but I believe the President is at his best when he’s speaking directly to the American people.”
When asked why he did not take questions Friday, she noted that “the President has taken questions for 49 briefings since the end of February.”
CNN’s Aaron Pellish, Alison Main and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.