President Trump said during an ABC town hall Tuesday evening that he did not downplay the coronavirus, adding "in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action."

Reality check: The president told journalist Bob Woodward during an on-the-record interview in March that he intentionally understated the severity of COVID-19 in public statements to avoid inciting panic.

What they're saying: An audience member at the ABC event asked the president: "If you believe it's the president's responsibility to protect America, why would you downplay a pandemic that's known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities?"

  • "So that was called action," Trump said in response. "Not with the mouth, but an actual fact ... Because what I did, with China, I put a ban on, with Europe, I put a ban on."
  • "We would have lost thousands more people had I not put a ban on. We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on, whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important. So, we saved a lot of lives when we did that. 
  • Asked by host and ABC News Chief George Stephanopoulos if the number of Americans who have died from the virus causes him pause and whether his administration could have done something differently, Trump replied, "I think we could have had 2 million deaths if we didn’t close out the country."
  • The president repeated his claim that the virus will disappear. "It's probably going to go away now a lot faster because of the vaccines," he said. "It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster with it."

The big picture: Trump added that he restricted travel from China to slow the spread of the virus and claimed the policy was singularly his idea.

  • Woodward recently told NBC News that limiting travel from China was not Trump's idea, but was recommended at a January meeting by leading health experts in the administration, including Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

On health care, Trump claimed his administration is pursing an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that would cover pre-existing conditions, which is already covered by ACA.

  • "But what we’re doing is, we’re going to be doing a health care plan — preexisting, protecting people with preexisting conditions," he said.
  • Stephanopoulos noted that Trump has been promising a new health care plan since his 2016 campaign and his administration is currently arguing in a case before the Supreme Court to strike down ACA — including its pre-existing condition protections.

On the military, the president pushed back against criticisms from former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and former National Security Adviser John Bolton, each of whom have claimed that he is unfit for office.

  • "These are people that I let go. These are disgruntled former employees," Trump said. "We're actually creating peace in the Middle East," Trump said, referring to a peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed Tuesday.

On law and order, Stephanopolous noted that Trump "promised four years ago at the Republican Convention, [he would] restore law and order," to which Trump claimed, "And I have, except in Democrat run cities..."

  • Stephanopolous: "Mr. President, you’re president for those cities for those cities right now."

Go deeper: Watch the full "Axios on HBO" interview with President Trump

Go deeper

Trump and Biden clash over COVID: "It is what it is because you are who you are"

Joe Biden attacked President Trump at the presidential debate on Tuesday for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, accusing him of panicking and failing to prepare for the crisis when he was warned about it in February.

The big picture: "It is what it is because you are who you are," Biden said, alluding to an answer Trump gave in an interview with "Axios on HBO" when asked about the 150,000+ death toll from the coronavirus. Trump responded by claiming that Biden would not have shut down travel from China in the early days of the pandemic, and he defended his administration's mass production of ventilators and protective equipment.

Scoop: CDC director overruled on cruise ship ban

CDC Director Robert Redfield. Photo: Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was overruled when he pushed to extend a "no-sail order" on passenger cruises into next year, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the conversation today in the White House Situation Room.

Why it matters: Cruise ships were the sites of some of the most severe early coronavirus outbreaks, before the industry shut down in March. And their future is just the latest disagreement between Redfield and members of President Trump's team.

Debate dashboard: Catch up fast

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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