Pence to lead US response to coronavirus after days of mixed messages

Posted on: February 26th, 2020 by ABC News No Comments

Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Mike Pence will lead the U.S. response to coronavirus.

“I’m going to be announcing exactly right now that I’m going to be putting our Vice President Mike Pence in charge,” President Donald Trump said at a news conference Tuesday evening. “And Mike will be working with the professionals, the doctors and everybody else that’s working. The team is brilliant.”

The announcement came following days of sending mixed messages on the risk the coronavirus poses to the United States.

Pence “will report back to me,” Trump said, during a press conference Tuesday evening.

“Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said.

“The number one priority from our standpoint is the health and safety of the American people,” he added.

Following Trump’s comments, Pence spoke and also sought to allay any fears.

“The threat to the American public remains low,” he said.

“My role will be to continue to bring that team together, to bring to the president the best options for action to see to the safety and well being and health of the American people. We’ll also be continuing to reach out to governors, state and local officials,” Pence said. “We will be working with them in renewed ways to make sure they have the resources to be able to respond and as the president said, we’ll be adding additional personnel here at the White House to support our efforts on the president’s behalf.”

President Trump announced the event on Wednesday morning, blaming news organizations for making coronavius “look as bad as possible.”

“Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!” he tweeted. “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. Thank you!”

Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape! @CDCgov…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2020

Just after he arrived back in Washington Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that the CDC and his administration were doing a “great job.”

Just landed. India was great, trip very successful. Heading to the White House. Meetings and calls scheduled today. @CDCgov, @SecAzar and all doing a great job with respect to Coronavirus! Briefing this afternoon.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2020

In contrast to what the president and his aides have been saying about the situation being contained, CDC officials warned Americans of “significant disruption” coming because of the virus.

“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday at a news conference.

On Tuesday night, while traveling back from India on Air Force One, he tweeted back at the Democratic candidates who blasted his handling of the coronavirus crisis during their debate in South Carolina.

CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus, including the very early closing of our borders to certain areas of the world. It was opposed by the Dems, “too soon”, but turned out to be the correct decision. No matter how well we do, however, the…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 26, 2020

Trump, speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, played down concerns about the coronavirus in the U.S., saying the situation was “under control” and was a “problem that’s going to go away.”

“We have very few people with it,” Trump told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi, adding that he was not totally caught up on the latest details because of his trip to India but that “the people are getting better, they’re all getting better,” referring to patients in the U.S.

“I think that whole situation will start working out. Lot of talent, lot of brain power is being put behind it,” he said.

Trump’s comments came on the heels of sharp criticism from Democrats on the response from the White House. The administration on Monday asked Congress for emergency funding to deal with crisis — $1.25 billion in new funding and another $1.25 billion shifted from existing funding previously allocated for other reasons, including some designated to deal with the Ebola virus.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday morning he’s preparing a detailed Senate Democratic request for emergency coronavirus funding totaling $8.5 billion. It’s expected to be finalized Wednesday and sent to appropriators.

Following Schumer’s announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday morning called the president’s $2.5 billion request to combat coronavirus “anemic.”

“What he’s doing is late, too late, anemic,” Pelosi said. “Hopefully we can make up for the loss of time, but it will have to have the professionals in place, the resources that are adequate and not be using scare tactics about people coming back to our country.”

She said the House will have a proposal “similar” to the plan put forth by the Senate.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have questioned Trump’s top advisers this week on whether the administration was doing enough almost two months into the global crisis, expressing deep skepticism of the president’s claims that the situation was “under control.”

“That is a remarkable level of containment here in the United States,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters at a press conference Tuesday, later adding that “we are realistic” there would be more cases.

Azar, in a second day of testimony before the House Appropriations, called the community transmission of the virus in other nations “concerning.”

“We still have only 14 cases of the novel coronvirus detected in the United States involving travel to or close contacts with travelers,” Azar said in his opening statement Wednesday, doubling down on earlier comments. “The immediate risk to the American public remains low, but there is now community transmission in a number of countries including outside of Asia which is deeply concerning.”

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said to Azar point-blank, “Provide me some security that someone knows what’s going on in this administration about the coronavirus.”

Azar responded, “the risk right now is very low to Americans.”

“…we have always been clear that number one that could change rapidly, and from the outset I and the public health experts said we fully expect we will see more cases here in the United States,” he continued. “We have to be mentally prepared and also as a government prepared.”

Later, when Pocan asked about a Politico report that the White House is considering appointing a coronavirus czar, Azar, after first saying he wouldn’t comment, then said he doesn’t anticipate one now or in the near future.

“I don’t anticipate one. This is working extremely well,” he said, referring to how he and HHS are leading the administration effort.

“If it doesn’t work or if there’s a need for change… then that would be for the president to decide,” Azar said.

As health officials warn the coronavirus likely will spread throughout communities in the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged Tuesday for the second straight day, tumbling 879 points.

The Dow fell more than 3% when trading closed, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq also tumbling Tuesday, by more than 3% and by more than 2.7%, respectively.

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