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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

Updated Nov 24, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Health equity and the next four years

On Tuesday, November 24 Axios' Caitlin Owens hosted a conversation on the importance of health equity in the new presidential administration, featuring Inova Loudoun Hospital President Deborah Addo, Harvard Opinion Research Program director and professor Robert Blendon and GE Healthcare's U.S. and Canada CEO Everett Cunningham.

Professor Robert Blendon discussed the outsized impact of the pandemic on minorities in America, highlighting the severe health and economic consequences.

  • On the precarity of the economic situation: “We have people who were hanging on by the fingernail when there was federal aid, and there’s no federal aid [now]. We’re about to stop the limited protection that you can’t be evicted if you can’t pay your rent or utility.”
  • On how dire the COVID-19 pandemic is for communities of color in the coming months: "I want to be very cautious here. Unless a number of things are done on an emergency basis in the next six months, a lot of Black and Hispanic Americans are going to die."

Everett Cunningham unpacked how COVID-19 has changed the field of medicine, and how the shift to telemedicine can be a part of expanding health access.

  • On improving rural health care: "Irrespective of which zip code you're in, you should get the highest quality of care... [Telemedicine] allows us to reach out to the rural patients and give them that same quality of care."

Deborah Addo discussed policy solutions to address and help reduce public health inequities .

  • On paid leave as public health: "If you know that if you come to work ill you'll be paid, but if you stay home and you're ill, you won't be paid—that's the difference between making rent and keeping the lights on [or not]. It's unlikely that you are going to let your employer know you're not feeling well. We need to help to remove that barrier."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with USAFacts Steve Ballmer and discussed USAFacts' efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 around the country.

  • "We've got a map here that shows how COVID cases per capita keeps moving: we started in the east, then south, then moved to the west. And now there are counties in North Dakota where one out of five people in the county have had COVID. So I'm very worried about it."

Thank you USAFacts for sponsoring this event.

22 mins ago - World

Iran's nuclear dilemma: Ramp up now or wait for Biden

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The world is waiting to see whether Iran will strike back at Israel or the U.S. over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran's military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Senior Iranian officials have stressed that Iran will take revenge against the perpetrators, but also respond by continuing Fakhrizadeh’s legacy — the nuclear program. The key question is whether Iran will accelerate that work now, or wait to see what President-elect Biden puts on the table.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

U.K. first nation to clear Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it's approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, which "will be made available across the U.K. from next week."

Why it matters: The U.K. has beaten the U.S. to become the first Western country to give emergency approval for a vaccine that's found to be 95% effective with no serious side effects against a virus that's killed nearly 1.5 million people globally.

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