WASHINGTON -- White House surrogates and GOP lawmakers struggled Sunday to defend President Donald Trump after he spent the Fourth of July holiday weekend denigrating the racial-justice movement galvanized by George Floyd's killing and playing down a deadly pandemic by claiming that 99% of coronavirus cases are "completely harmless."
In a pair of divisive speeches delivered against backdrops meant to invoke traditional images of patriotism and national pride -- the massive presidential monument at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota on Friday and a fireworks-and-flyover celebration in the nation's capital the next day -- Trump hewed to a message aimed at his hard-line base, with little in the way of outreach to the country as a whole.
Even some Trump strategists acknowledge it's a risky gambit.
At a time when multiple opinion polls show the president trailing his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, by double-digit margins, Trump is diverging ever more sharply from mainstream voters' views on race, justice and history as well as how to cope with a raging pandemic.
Among those who work for Trump or hope to ride his election coattails, however, avoiding criticism of him even in the face of false or ahistorical statements remains a seemingly mandatory practice.
Sunday, for example, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn repeatedly refused to contradict the president's contention that 99% of coronavirus cases are "completely harmless."
Infectious disease specialists say about one-third of coronavirus cases are asymptomatic. But for many others who contract it, the effects can be serious or catastrophic. Even those who survive the illness often face dangerous, long-term health problems.
Hahn, a medical doctor who serves on the White House coronavirus task force, faced repeated questions about Trump's claim during television interviews Sunday. He avoided direct answers.
"I'm not going to get into who's right and who's wrong," Hahn said during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." He acknowledged that "cases are surging in the country" and urged Americans to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on mask wearing, physical distancing and hand washing.
On ABC's "This Week," Hahn deflected when asked how many cases he believed were harmless, replying: "Any case, we don't want to have ... and any death, any case is tragic."