As Coronavirus continues to make its way around the world, killing almost three thousand and sickening tens of thousands more, the U.S. government’s response to the crisis has become riddled with dissension between President Trump and the Democrats. Trump requested $2.5 billion in funding from Congress to deal with the outbreak. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), however, said that amount was too little as he put down the administration’s preparedness for a disease federal officials say could cause “severe” disruption to everyday life in the U.S.
“With no plan to deal with the potential public and global health crisis related to the novel coronavirus, the Trump administration made an emergency supplemental appropriations request on Monday,” Schumer said in a statement on Feb. 26. “It was too little and too late — only $1.25 billion in new funding. For context, Congress appropriated more than $6B for the Pandemic Flu in 2006 and more than $7B for H1N1 flu in 2009.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also insulted the president’s funding request, calling it “completely inadequate” and criticized the president for previously cutting funding to public health programs. She called the response “anemic.”
After Trump tapped Vice President Mike Pence to lead the Coronavirus response in the U.S., Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), attacked Pence for his handling of HIV while still the governor of Indiana. True to form, in the words of Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, Democrats “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
“As governor, Pence’s science denial contributed to one of the worst HIV outbreaks in Indiana’s history,” AOC tweeted. “He is not a medical doctor. He is not a health expert. He is not qualified nor positioned in any way to protect our public health.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she spoke with Pence and voiced her concerns regarding Trump’s choosing him to spearhead the Coronavirus initiative. “We have always had a very candid relationship and, I expressed to him a concern that I had of his being in this position,” she said at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.
At Trump’s announcement of his position on Wednesday, Pence said his time serving as governor provided valuable training for this. “I know full well the importance of presidential leadership, the importance of administration leadership, and the vital role of partnerships of state and local governments, and health authorities in responding to potential threats and dangerous infectious diseases,” the vice president said.
Pence announced the appointment of Debbie Birx, a medical doctor and HIV and global health expert, as the “White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator.” She had previously been appointed by President Obama to the position of U.S. Global AIDS coordinator and confirmed by the Senate.
Presidential candidates didn’t hesitate to jump on the Coronavirus bandwagon, declaring how they would respond to the outbreak. “Like so much else, the Trump administration’s bungled response to the coronavirus outbreak is a mess,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted. “As president, I will lead a competent administration prepared to combat outbreaks—because our public health, economy, and national security depend on it.”
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg also joined the clamor of Trump insults regarding his approach to the coronavirus. “I led NYC through its recovery after 9/11 and the financial crisis,” the billionaire tweeted Wednesday. “We faced health epidemics and weather emergencies. The key to leading in a crisis like the coronavirus is sharing the facts, demonstrating control and trusting the experts. Unfortunately, not Trump’s strong suit.”
Trump said that Democrats and the media are playing up the Coronavirus threat for political gain, as he sought to ease fears about the virus this week both in his Wednesday press conference and in public appearances during his trip to India and on Twitter.
It is clear that the jury’s still out regarding how malignant Coronavirus will be both in the U.S. and around the world. Some experts estimate the mortality rate is 20 times higher than that of the seasonal flu. And while the seasonal flu kills roughly 35,000 Americans a year, if the coronavirus were to infect, for example, half the U.S. population, the 2% mortality rate would mean 3.3 million American lives lost. Is there merit in what Trump’s opponents are saying, that the president is being misled by some of his advisors on the true magnitude of the threat? Or is it merely political chatter?
Read more from Loraine Silvetz, MSW.