DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump returned to the coronavirus briefing room yesterday after a hiatus. And he chose some new language when he was talking about the coronavirus.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better - something I don't like saying about things. But that's the way it is. It's the way - it's what we have. You look over the world, it's all over the world.
GREENE: Though it is especially bad right now in the United States, we should say.
Senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, David.
GREENE: You've seen a lot of these briefings. What struck you yesterday?
MONTANARO: Well, first of all, he was by himself. I mean, he wasn't flanked by people from his administration. It wasn't Vice President Pence out front, who's in charge of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. There weren't the health experts he usually has with him or who he has, you know, taken to center stage before. In fact, he said that Dr. Deborah Birx, who's supposed to be the coordinator of the task force, was just behind the closed door there.
All that was deliberate. It's about politics. I mean, on the tone, it was a significant shift. I mean, he was more somber than we've seen him in these briefings for months. There was less happy talk and what he calls cheerleading. You know, he said the virus would likely get worse before it got better, as you played there in that clip. And he also urged people to wear masks before because they work. I mean, he even called it patriotic to wear one. And that's important because Republicans and people in Trump's base have been saying that they're less likely to wear one regularly. And that leadership matters. He pledged to defeat the virus, and here's a bit of what he said.
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TRUMP: My administration will stop at nothing to save lives and shield the vulnerable, which is so important. We've learned so much about this disease. And we know who the vulnerable are, and we are going to indeed shield them.
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, look. This was him reflecting a little bit more of the seriousness of what's going on and seeming to accept the reality that the virus isn't going to magically disappear as he's been saying for months - although he did still say it would disappear at some point. He also misled about the U.S.'s role doing better with the coronavirus than in other places, in other countries. And he didn't talk much about funding testing or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and these have become real flashpoints in funding.
GREENE: So beyond saying that wearing a mask is patriotic and saying that he's - his administration is going to stop at nothing to save lives, did he offer some kind of administration plan to deal with this?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, we've already seen CDC guidelines that have been out there. But the Trump administration really believes that it's there to play a supportive role and that it's up to the states to make some of these decisions. Health experts think that a unified federal response is more necessary. Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, has called on closing indoor bars for example. But Trump has been really reluctant to take that kind of top-down hand.
GREENE: You mentioned politics at play here. I mean, what is going on in terms of strategy with this president in this moment?
MONTANARO: I mean, first of all, you know, there have been spikes, and people are hurting. But where have they been, right? I mean, in places like Texas and Arizona and Florida - places that have been more supportive of the president and, by the way, are critical to his reelection this year. The reality is Trump has really been struggling in the polls. He can try to dismiss them and call them fake polls. But behind the spin and behind the scenes, the campaign knows he's down, and they're trying what they can to reboot.
GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.