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Trump vs. Pelosi: What happened in Chinatown

President Trump has falsely exaggerated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) visit to San Francisco's Chinatown in late February amid coronavirus fears. (Video: The Washington Post)

“You know, I put on a ban on China before anybody in this country died. I put on a ban. And so you tell me. Nancy Pelosi was having — she wanted to have a street party in Chinatown in San Francisco at the end of February. That’s a month later. … Nancy Pelosi is holding a street fair. She wants a street fair in San Francisco, in Chinatown, to prove — you know what the purpose of it was — to prove that there’s no problem.”

— President Trump, remarks at a news conference, April 20, 2020

“I closed it up long before Pelosi. You know, she was having parties in San Francisco. ‘Let’s all go to Chinatown.’”

— Trump, remarks at a news conference, April 19

“Crazy Nancy Pelosi deleted this from her Twitter account. She wanted everyone to pack into Chinatown long after I closed the BORDER TO CHINA. Based on her statement, she is responsible for many deaths. She’s an incompetent, third-rate politician!”

— Trump, in a tweet, April 16

“By the way, I did that very early, while Nancy Pelosi was trying to have, in San Francisco, parties in Chinatown. Because they — she thought it would be great. She wanted to show that this thing doesn’t exist.”

— Trump, remarks at a news conference, April 15

“In February, Nancy Pelosi said we should come to Chinatown. This is late February. ‘Come to Chinatown. We think it’s very safe. Come here. Let’s all have the big parade — Chinatown parade.’ Probably referring to San Francisco. And that’s it. But I took this action early.”

— Trump, remarks at a news conference, April 13

Notice a theme, besides the fact that President Trump apparently detests House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)?

Under fire for reacting too slowly to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump is trying to turn the tables and argue Pelosi was actually slower than he was. He points to his Jan. 31 decision (effective on Feb. 2) to impose some travel restrictions on non-U.S. citizens coming from China — and contrasts that with a visit Pelosi made to San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Of course, Chinatown is not China. And there are many things Trump keeps getting wrong about her visit. It was pretty uneventful, but he tries to spice it up with claims that she called for a “big parade,” a “street party,” a “street fair” and so forth. Then he tosses in some ridiculously false claims.

The Facts

Trump’s repeated remarks dismissing the threat of the coronavirus to the United States have proved to be a problem for his reelection campaign. A president sets the national tone. But, to be fair, other high-profile politicians also did not express early alarm or advocate the extreme social distancing tactics now set in most of the country.

So let’s look at what Pelosi did and how that tracks with Trump’s description.

Pelosi visited San Francisco’s Chinatown on Feb. 24. To view videos of her visits two months later is almost jarring, as she strolls arm-in-arm and walks amid a crowd. She made clear the point of her visit was to show it was “very safe to be in Chinatown,” which had been hit hard by a drop in tourism after reports of the virus emerging from China.

“This fear is — I think — unwarranted in light of the precautions that are being taken here in the United States,” she said, noting that fashion shows in Italy were being held without audiences.

“I can’t speak for any other country,” she added, though she also said: “I do think that because it started in China, there’s a concern that are the — is the Chinese government doing what it needed to do early enough, and now as we go forward. But that should not be carried over to Chinatown and San Francisco.”

Asked whether she had confidence in the federal government, Pelosi did not mention Trump but said she had confidence in Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. “Prevention, prevention, prevention,” she said. “We want people to be concerned and vigilant. However, we don’t want them to be afraid.”

Other than a reference to a parade that took place two weeks earlier, Pelosi did not propose a parade, a street fair or a party, as Trump claimed. She never indicated she doubted the virus existed, as Trump claimed. She promoted Chinese businesses, even tweeting a brief video of her making fortune cookies.

That tweet is still on her Twitter account. Yet Trump falsely claimed she had deleted a tweet of her visit to Chinatown. The video in Trump’s tweet came from a news clip, and there is no record of Pelosi deleting such a tweet.

There is also no evidence Pelosi was responsible for “many deaths.” As of April 22, there have been a total of 21 deaths in San Francisco County; the first death was not announced until March 25, a month after her trip to Chinatown.

Chinatown, in fact, had no covid-19 cases as of mid-April in its 22 blocks, according to a report published by the New York Times. “Despite being particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus in the United States, Chinatown turned out to be well-prepared, unlike other places around the country,” the article said, citing a community plan of action that was put in place on Feb. 1, emphasizing frequent hand-cleaning, availability of sanitizers and education on basic hygiene principles, including frequent use of masks.

The day after her visit, Pelosi posted a Twitter thread saying Trump’s response to the emerging crisis thus far was inadequate.

Trump, meanwhile, insisted things were okay:

Two days after Pelosi’s visit, on Feb. 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the first case of possible community transmission — indicating the virus was spreading silently through the United States. The announcement came as Trump held a news conference after returning from a trip to India.

Trump compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu. “It is a little bit different, but in some ways it’s easier and in some ways it’s a little bit tougher,” he said. “But we have it so well under control. I mean, we really have done a very good job.” He added: “When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

On Feb. 27, Trump told reporters: “We have done an incredible job. We’re going to continue. It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

The first confirmed death from covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, came on Feb. 29, four days after her visit. Pelosi tweeted:

Days later, on March 10, Trump kept on the same theme of serendipity: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” Even on March 11, he optimistically said: “If we get rid of the coronavirus problem quickly, we won’t need [economic] stimulus.”

The Pinocchio Test

Let’s do an accounting here. Trump claimed Pelosi deleted a tweet; that’s false. There was no such tweet, and her tweet of her visit is still on her timeline. He accused her of causing many deaths, when there have been none in Chinatown and relatively few in San Francisco. He says she urged street fairs and parades, but that’s not true. She advocated patronage of Chinese businesses.

In terms of suggesting he took the crisis seriously and she did not, that’s a stretch. Contrary to Trump’s claim, she never suggested the virus did not exist. In Chinatown, she urged people to take precautions and to be vigilant. A day later, she called for a broader, more forceful response. The president, meanwhile, continued with happy talk for at least two weeks afterward.

That adds up to Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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