Trump’s drug surprise triggers a White House playbook: Defend and clean up

On Tuesday, Trump even dismissed one downbeat study about hydroxychloroquine as a “Trump enemy statement.” The study, partially funded by the government and released in April, found hydroxychloroquine provided no benefit and led to a potentially higher risk of death for coronavirus patients at U.S. veterans hospitals. The research has not been peer reviewed and was not a clinical trial.

Trump called the research a “false study,” arguing “it was given by obviously not friends of the administration,” even though it was a study of government data about treatments given at government facilities.

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape,” he added. “They were very old. Almost dead.”

There’s no conclusive evidence that hydroxychloroquine is more effective in healthier patients, however.

Health officials inside the administration were floored when Trump blurted out that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, said the Republican close to the White House. Aides had no idea he had been personally taking a drug he’d been touting for weeks, senior administration officials said.

The same Republican said the surprise among White House staffers was not unusual, since they are not privy to the president’s personal medical treatment.

A second senior administration official said the president’s statement was a “deliberate one” and that even if aides did not have first-hand knowledge of his use before Monday, the president had been talking to many people who had used it and not suffered.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has been working on global supply chain issues during the pandemic, argued the reaction to Trump’s decision was political posturing.

“The drug has been used relatively safely for years for malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and close to 40 studies have signaled possible efficacy as a prophylactic and therapeutic,” he said. “It is false skepticism based on a few bad studies and a partisan knee-jerk reaction to anything Trump. These people hate Donald Trump more than they are concerned about the health and safety of American citizens.”

Vice President Mike Pence said he was not taking the drug himself, but added: “I would never begrudge any American taking the advice of their physician.”

“Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that’s been around for more than 40 years for treatment of malaria,” he said in a Fox News interview. “But, early in this process, the FDA approved what’s called off-label use where physicians could prescribe hydroxychloroquine in terms they deemed appropriate. So my physician has not recommended that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor. Any American should do likewise.”

When asked on Monday whether anyone else in his administration or family was taking the drug, Trump said “no.”

“But I wouldn’t be surprised,” he added. “I don’t want to ask them because that’s a personal decision as to whether or not you want to say. I just want to be open with the American public because, you know, I happen to think it’s good.”

It was news the president seemed eager to share on Monday. After a question about government whistleblowers, Trump launched into a typical tirade about his political enemies. Then he casually tacked on that he happened to be taking hydroxychloroquine.

“A lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy,” Trump said. “I happen to be taking it.”

Reacting to the visible shock in the room, the president added: “I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this, but — you know, when I announced this.”

Outside the White House, Trump allies said the response was overblown.

Trump’s critics, said Fox News host and Trump friend Sean Hannity, were acting as if the president’s “hope and optimism about the drug were some type of mortal sin.”

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