ARLINGTON, Va./BALTIMORE (Reuters) – President Donald Trump paid tribute to fallen members of the American military on Monday to mark Memorial Day while defending his decision to spend most of the holiday weekend playing golf as the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus outbreak neared 100,000.
“Some stories about the fact that in order to get outside and perhaps, even a little exercise, I played golf over the weekend. The Fake & Totally Corrupt News makes it sound like a mortal sin – I knew this would happen!,” Trump tweeted, saying this was the first time he had played in nearly three months.
Before becoming president, Trump had repeatedly criticized his predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama, for playing golf, including during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The United States has more than 1.6 million infections, the highest in the world, while forecast models for possible COVID-19 deaths predict the death toll will exceed 100,000 by June 1. But almost all 50 states have begun relaxing their coronavirus restrictions.
Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, is eager to have the pandemic-stricken economy in at least somewhat better shape by the fall to bolster his chances of staying in the White House.
He has also stepped up his travel schedule in recent weeks. On Monday, he visited Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He, Vice President Mike Pence and their spouses did not wear masks during the ceremony, along with military officers and enlisted personnel who took part. Trump has largely been reluctant to don a mask throughout the pandemic.
“In recent months, our nation and the world have been engaged in a new form of battle against an invisible enemy,” he said in a speech at the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore.
Trump has also been urging state governors to reopen their economies and encouraging Americans to restart activities that have been shuttered because of the pandemic.
On Friday he told governors to allow places of worship to reopen over the weekend and threatened, without explaining what authority he would use, to overrule them if they declined.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Shepardson; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)