President Donald Trump sought to take charge of the coronavirus crisis at a press conference on Wednesday.
Striking a tone of optimism and confidence, the president assured Americans that the risk from COVID-19 remains low, but that the Trump administration is prepared if the outbreak gets worse. Democrats have criticized Trump’s response as inadequate and recklessly overconfident, as the virus has continued to gain a foothold in the United States.
“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said. “We have the greatest experts, really, in the world, right here. We’re ready to adapt, and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads.”
Trump seeks to reassure
There are now at least 60 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States, as anxiety builds stateside and around the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans this week to prepare for a domestic outbreak as Democrats hammered Trump for appearing to downplay the threat.
At the presser, Trump sought to allay fears and clarify his administration’s response. Trump said that he is appointing Vice President Mike Pence to manage the crisis and that his team is prepared to respond to whatever happens, but he stressed that there was no reason for people to panic. The president said it was “shocking” to learn how many people die each year from the flu and suggested that the novel coronavirus was less dangerous.
Trump also gave himself credit for restricting travel to China in January, even though Democrats called him racist for doing so at the time, and slammed the Democrats for stirring up fear to hurt him politically. “I mean, some people called me racist because I made a decision so early. And we had never done that as a country before, let alone early. So it was a, you know, bold decision. It turned out to be a good decision,” Trump said.
Trump under fire
Two cases of the coronavirus surfaced in California on Thursday and Friday in patients who have not traveled to infected countries since the outbreak, in what may be signs that the disease is now spreading locally through the country. The stock market has taken a tumble amid global anxiety and disruptions to international travel and supply chains. The stock market suffered its worst fall since the 2008 financial crisis this week. Trump said at the presser:
“I think the stock market will recover. The economy is very strong with consumers, the strongest it’s ever been.”
As Trump confronts a public health crisis, the president and Democrats continue to spar over his administration’s response. Trump has asked for $2.5 billion to fight the virus, but Democrats have asked for about three times that amount, and they insist that Trump is not taking the threat seriously.
“The United States government must do more to address the spread of the deadly coronavirus in a smart, strategic, and serious way and we stand ready to work in a bipartisan fashion in Congress and with the administration to achieve this necessary goal,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a statement. “Lives are at stake — this is not the time for name-calling or playing politics.”
The president, for his part, has continued to boast that his team is doing a good job while complaining that the “do nothing Democrats” are blaming him, despite the decisive actions he took to slow the disease spread early on. Trump previously accused Democrats and media of stoking market panic.
“So, the Coronavirus, which started in China and spread to various countries throughout the world, but very slowly in the U.S. because President Trump closed our border, and ended flights, VERY EARLY, is now being blamed, by the Do Nothing Democrats, to be the fault of ‘Trump’,” he tweeted.
The Trump administration may invoke special powers to speed up the production of protective gear, as the virus now numbers in more than 80,000 cases worldwide and the World Health Organization has warned that it could quickly spread to every country. Two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Mexico on Friday.