Trump names Pence to lead US response to coronavirus threat
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President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that the U.S. is "very, very ready" for whatever the coronavirus threat brings, and he put his vice president in charge of overseeing the nation’s response.
Trump sought to minimize fears of the virus spreading widely across the U.S. But he said he was ready to spend "whatever’s appropriate," even if that meant the extra billions of dollars that Democrats have said is necessary to beef up the U.S. response. Trump had told Congress earlier this week that the government needed to spend $2.5 billion to fight the virus.
"We’re very, very ready for this, for anything," even if it’s "a breakout of larger proportions," Trump told a news conference.
Vice President Mike Pence will be working with the government’s top health authorities, and Trump’s earlier-appointed coronavirus task force, to oversee the response.
President Donald Trump said he’ll discuss the coronavirus threat at a White House news conference Wednesday, a day after he sought to minimize fears of the virus spreading widely across the U.S.
Trump tweeted that representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others, would join him at the late-afternoon appearance.
Trump and members of the administration have been sending mixed messages about the virus.
The CDC on Tuesday warned the American public to prepare for an outbreak of the disease, which has spawned more than 80,000 cases around the world but relatively few so far in the U.S.
But before he flew home from India on Tuesday, Trump said the coronavirus situation is “very well under control in our country.” The administration has asked Congress for an additional $2.5 billion to speed development of a vaccine, support preparedness and response activities, and to gather needed equipment and supplies.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike have questioned whether the request is sufficient.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, on Wednesday unveiled an $8.5 billion request to respond to the virus outbreak, more than triple Trump’s request. Schumer is asking for $4.5 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to work to contain the outbreak in the U.S., $1 billion to develop and manufacture a vaccine, $1 billion to help other countries battle the coronavirus and $2 billion to reimburse states for costs incurred in tackling the outbreak.
“We will put together a supplemental that will address this issue,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Calif. Aides said the House measure is likely to be unveiled next week.
DeLauro dismissed the White House’s $2.5 billion request, saying the two-page summary appeared to have been put together without much thought. She contrasted it to a 28-page submission from the Obama administration on Ebola.
Azar responded “I appreciate your frustration with the two-page letter being the documentation,” but he said he believes $2.5 billion will be enough for now. “If it doesn’t fund it, we’ll come back to you.”
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Schumer has been harshly critical of Trump’s response to the outbreak, but his request — announced before the Democratic-controlled House Appropriations Committee has weighed in — rankled some Democrats hoping for quick, bipartisan action to address the crisis.
Arriving back in the U.S. early Wednesday, Trump immediately began to push back against critics who say he should have acted sooner to bolster the federal response to the coronavirus.
He tweeted that the CDC, Azar and others are “doing a great job with respect to Coronavirus!” and announced that he would be briefed later Wednesday.
“I will be having a News Conference at the White House, on this subject, today at 6:00 P.M. CDC representatives, and others, will be there.”
Trump also criticized some news media coverage of the coronavirus, accusing news outlets of “panicking markets.”
The president keeps close tabs on the stock market, seeing it as an indicator that his economic policies are working and frequently charting its growth on Twitter. Markets tumbled Monday by more than 1,000 points and again on Tuesday, and Trump noticed.
In India, he said China, where the outbreak began, was getting the epidemic under control.
“They’re getting it more and more under control so I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away,” he said in India, while noting that “we lost almost 1,000 points” Monday on the stock market.
Azar was scheduled Wednesday to testify to Congress about appropriations for his department, with questioning about the administration’s coronavirus preparations likely.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also engaged in the pushback after returning with Trump. Grisham retweeted a CDC post that said “there is currently no reported community spread” of coronavirus in the U.S.
In the tweet, the CDC advised people to take the usual precautions to avoid spreading the virus, such as staying home when sick and washing hands with soap and water.
This week, the National Institutes of Health received a shipment of test doses of a vaccine candidate from Moderna Inc., in preparation for first-step safety testing in a few dozen people aimed to begin by April. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH’s infectious disease chief, cautioned reporters that in a best-case scenario, “you’re talking about a year to a year and a half” before any vaccine would be ready for widespread use.
Fauci said that while only a few cases have turned up in the U.S. from travelers outside the country, “we need to be able to think about how we will respond to a pandemic outbreak.”
“It’s very clear. If we have a global pandemic, no country is going to be without impact,” Fauci said.
A pandemic involves the continual spread of sustained transmission from person to person in multiple regions and hemispheres throughout the world simultaneously, Fauci noted.