WASHINGTON — After spending a day huddled with his campaign advisers at his private club in Bedminster, N.J., President Trump emerged on Friday night for a surprise “news conference” that seemed at times to be as much a benefit for his loyal club members as it was about making any news or addressing the crisis facing the nation.
Speaking in front of dozens of members who gathered in a ballroom to see him, many of them holding wine glasses and forgoing masks, Mr. Trump explained that the reporters in the room had been “waiting outside for a long time” and described the back-and-forth he expected as “always a lot of fun.”
The audience even had a chance to participate, booing loudly when it was suggested by a reporter that the largely unmasked crowd in the room was violating social distancing guidelines, and then cheering when the president noted that the club’s members “know the news is fake.”
As millions of Americans faced threats of eviction and a loss of income or benefits without a deal in Congress, and with the Washington dysfunction Mr. Trump promised to solve reaching new levels, the president rambled, bludgeoned, vowed to take action by presidential fiat and insisted again that the virus was already disappearing — all from the confines of a gilded room beneath chandeliers, far from Washington, ensconced in his private club.
“It’s disappearing, it’s going to disappear,” Mr. Trump falsely said of the coronavirus, a return to the kind of dismissive attitude his aides have tried to convince him is hurting his re-election chances. Just weeks ago, the president, trying a pivot, conceded that it would “get worse before it gets better.” But cases nationally remain at elevated levels and, by many measures, the United States is faring worse than most other big nations.
On Friday night, Mr. Trump threatened to sign executive orders to sidestep the gridlock on Capitol Hill over a coronavirus relief bill, but he did not offer any specifics about when he would do so, or precisely what the orders would say.
“I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need,” the president said, noting that he would be willing to extend a national moratorium on evictions, defer student loan interest and payments “until further notice,” and enhance unemployment benefits through the end of the year. He avoided questions about how he could legally circumvent Congress.
“You always get sued,” he said.
He bragged about the July jobs numbers even though they signaled that the economic recovery was losing steam. And in a statement he has committed to memory despite his own health professionals contradicting him, he said falsely again that the reason the cases were rising was “because we are doing a lot of testing.”
Before appearing in front of the cameras, Mr. Trump privately alluded to the reporters in attendance as part of his show. “You’ll get to meet the fake news tonight,” he told club members, according to CNN, which picked up audio from a hot mic. “Oh, all my killers are there, wow. So you’ll get to see some of the people that we deal with every day.”
The president, accompanied by just a few White House aides for a weekend that is to include fund-raisers in Southampton, N.Y., and Deal, N.J., was emerging from a difficult week, during which his mood was so foul that aides were warning one another about eruptions, according to multiple people familiar with what took place.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Trump had a tense phone call with the casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson, whom the president upbraided for not donating more to support his re-election, according to a person familiar with the call. Mr. Adelson and his wife donated $10 million to a super PAC supporting Mr. Trump in 2018, and have each written checks for nearly $600,000 during this cycle.
Spending the day with his political advisers in the comforts of his club helped improve Mr. Trump’s mood, and by the evening, he was eager to get some attention. Aides rushed to put together a news conference, complete with the club members cheering him on.
But after almost an hour, even Tucker Carlson of Fox News, a frequent booster of Mr. Trump, cut away for a story about Kanye West’s curious presidential run.
Annie Karni reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.