BEDMINSTER — President Donald Trump defended members of his Somerset County golf club for not observing social-distancing or face-covering protocols in the clubhouse where the president gave a news conference Friday evening.

“They don’t have to. It’s a political activity. They have exceptions,” Trump said after a reporter asked him about the crowd of a few dozen people, who booed at the question.

“I call it peaceful protest because they knew you were coming up and they know the news is fake. They understand it better than anybody,” he added just before ending the conference.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday made limits on indoor gatherings stricter, allowing at least 10 people and up to 25% of a room or building's capacity, but no more than 25 people. Retail stores and gatherings involving political activity or religious services, weddings and funerals are exempt from this tighter limit.

Golf courses also are subject to social-distancing rules, including the 25% cap on capacity.

Appearing on CNN on Friday night, neurosurgeon and medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta called the images from Bedminster "stunning."

"Even with so many people becoming infected, so many people who've died, there is a significant percentage of people who still don't believe this is real," he said.

After reporters took pictures of the mask-less crowd, golf club employees passed out face coverings, reports said.

The impromptu media event at Trump’s favorite home away from the White House, which began with the playing of a recording of “Hail to the Chief,” covered a wide range of topics. Trump also attacked his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Democratic leaders in Portland and on Capitol Hill.

For New Jersey’s Democratic governor, however, Trump once again had nothing but praise.

“The governor is working very hard. Gov. Murphy is doing a good job. We’re working very closely with him,” Trump said, pointing out the millions of dollars in federal aid that the state has received during the pandemic.

While Trump blamed congressional Democrats for stalled negotiations over renewing a federal aid package, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the White House rebuffed the Democrats’ compromise to reduce their aid request from $3 trillion down to $2 trillion, which would have required Republicans to budge by adding a trillion to their own proposal.

The Democrats want to extend the $600 weekly unemployment benefits, provide $100 billion in funding to help schools reopen in the fall, and pay for more testing.

Trump on Friday struck a cheery note on the state of the economy, pointing out that the nation has added 9.3 million jobs since May, calling it “the single greatest” three-month job growth period “in history.” Left unsaid by Trump, however, was that the number of recovered jobs pales in comparison to the 22 million jobs lost during the pandemic.

“It’s clear the economy is losing steam,” Schumer said earlier in the day. “That means we need big, bold investments in America to help average folks.”

Trump also blamed the rising coronavirus numbers across the country on widespread testing, a claim that has been disputed by epidemiologists. Public health officials say the numbers are rising because people are infecting each other more often now that many pandemic restrictions have been loosened. While more people are being tested, the percentage of those tests returning positive has been increasing across the country. While the number of new infections nationally is down to 55,000 a day, from a high of 70,000 in July, data shows the rate is rising again.

Trump also referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus,” and said that “China allowed the virus to infect the world.” During the first months of the year, Trump had praised China for its response to the outbreak and often downplayed the threat it posed to the United States.

Trump on Friday noted that “we have to remain vigilant” even as he referred to the “pandemic that is disappearing.”

“It’s going to disappear,” he added, returning to a conjecture that he has often repeated since February, when he posited that the virus would disappear by April.

As of Friday, more than 163,000 Americans had died from the virus, including more than 14,000 in New Jersey.

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