United States President Donald Trump pulled the plug on his freewheeling daily coronavirus briefings when they turned into a political liability, but he was reviving them today, looking to halt a campaign-season erosion of support as new cases spike across the country.
CNN reported that 86,000 Americans had died of Covid-19 and there had been three million cases since Trump last held a coronavirus briefing.
The early evening show (9am NZT) at the White House was rolling out as the next stage of the federal government's response to the pandemic was being crafted on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers and White House officials were opening negotiations on a trillion-dollar-or-more "phase four" rescue package.
Trump announced yesterday that he would revive the briefings, though White House officials said hours before he was to take the podium that the format and frequency had not been finalised.
He was not planning on sharing the stage with public health experts including doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx — at least in his first briefing — according to a White House official.
"You'll have to tune in to see," teased press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
"He's the right person to give the information to the American people," she said. "And, boy, does he get the information to a lot of the American people during his briefings, as noted by the ratings."
Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, told NPR he hadn't been informed by the White House whether he would be in attendance for Trump's briefing.
The doctor said he was glad Trump has begun to promote mask-wearing and expressed optimism the President would reinforce that message today.
"If we, during those conferences, come out and have consistent, clear, noncontradictory messages, I believe it will be very helpful in getting people on the track of knowing the direction that we need to go to get this pandemic under control," he said.
Little more than three months out from Election Day, Trump is hoping that the podium spotlight will give him an edge against Democratic rival Joe Biden, though his advisers have stressed a need to adopt a more disciplined public agenda.
In addition to discussing medical developments, he also was expected to focus on his advocacy for schools to reopen for in-person education, following his threat to try to withhold federal funds from those that stick to remote education. And he was sure to predict a golden economic recovery on the way and go after Biden, Democratic-led cities and aggressive protesters
Biden, for his part today, launched into scathing criticism of Trump as he outlined the latest plank of his economic recovery plan, charging that Trump "failed his most important test as an American President: the duty to care for you, for all of us."
"He's quit on you, he's quit on this country," Biden said.
There was no shortage of advice on how Trump should comport himself.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an occasional informal Trump adviser, said the President should wear a mask to the briefing.
"That's what's going to convince people that he's serious about this," Gingrich said on Fox.
Trump's daily turns in the White House briefing room largely ended in late April after the President's widely derided suggestion that injecting toxic disinfectant could help treat the coronavirus. The comment prompted widespread medical warnings against the potentially deadly move.
Scrapping the briefings was welcomed by aides who believed they were dragging down the President's poll numbers, particularly with older voters. However, with his trademark rallies largely on hold because of the coronavirus, the view in Trump's circle is that he needs an alternate means to reach voters.
And Trump missed the days when would dominate cable television ratings with his early evening briefings. Tellingly, when he announced yesterday that the appearances could return, he did so with an eye toward their time slot and a boast about ratings.