NEWS

Trump Hits Media on Coronavirus as He Prepares an Evening News Conference

trump-hits-media-on-coronavirus-as-he-prepares-an-evening-news-conference

President Trump, back from India, lashed out at the news media for fanning fears of the coronavirus and said his administration was doing a “great job” in its response.

Credit…Doug Mills/The bioreports

Noah WeilandEmily Cochrane

WASHINGTON — President Trump blamed the media on Wednesday for “doing everything possible” to make the coronavirus “look as bad as possible,” even as he said his administration was “doing a great job” with a virus that the Centers for Disease Control said would inevitably hit American shores.

Mr. Trump set a 6 p.m. White House news conference to discuss the virus with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But his reassurances have not calmed global markets, which were down sharply overseas Wednesday morning. A day after its worst one-day slide in two years, the S&P 500 closed down 3 percent on Tuesday, a decline that put the index deeper in the red for 2020.

With cabinet secretaries fanning out on Capitol Hill, Wednesday promised more sharp questioning about the administration’s preparedness for a virus that has now infected more than 81,000 people globally and killed more than 2,700.

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, told lawmakers on Wednesday morning that the C.D.C. has already exhausted the $105 million rapid response fund that the federal government had been using in its initial response efforts. He has proposed shifting $136 million from other health programs to the coronavirus to replenish the government’s efforts.

“It’s a very fast-moving process,” he said.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles health care, blasted the White House’s funding proposals as “unacceptable.”

“We want to be supportive,” she said.

The White House has requested $1.25 billion in new funds to prepare for coronavirus, but Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, proposed on Wednesday to increase that dramatically, to $8.5 billion in new emergency funds.

The politics of coronavirus shifted drastically on Tuesday when Dr. bioreportscy Messonnier, the director of the C.D.C.’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that “it’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen.”

She said that hospitals and schools should begin preparing for an outbreak, and that she had even spoken to her own family about “significant disruption of our lives.”

On Wednesday, Moody’s Analytics said it now sees a 40 percent chance that the virus will break containment in China and grow into a global pandemic that would push the United States and the world into a recession. Its chief economist, Mark Zandi, said in a research note that he expected the virus to reduce American economic growth by 0.2 percentage points this year — and that a “black swan” recession now looked uncomfortably possible.

“The economy was already fragile before the outbreak and vulnerable to anything that did not stick to script,” he wrote. “Covid-19 is way off script.”

Mr. Trump’s attempts to calm the American public have also occasionally been laced with a degree of alarm.

“There’s a very good chance you’re not going to die,” Mr. Trump said about the outbreak at a news conference in India on Tuesday.

Speaker bioreportscy Pelosi, responding to Mr. Trump’s assurances that the virus was under control, told Biorports, “I don’t think the president knows what he’s talking about — once again.”

Mr. Trump has in recent days been frustrated by the threat of the virus, expressing it to a number of advisers. He is looking for someone new to manage the administration’s response efforts, which have so far been overseen by a task force led by Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, according to a person familiar with the effort.

Lawmakers have expressed alarm that the Trump administration has yet to appoint a czar-like position at the White House, which President Barack Obama did in 2014 to handle the Ebola virus. That role, and a global health expert slot on the National Security Council, have been vacant for years.

“I’m not sure who’s on the task force,” Senator Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, said on Tuesday as she left a briefing with federal health officials.

She added: “This is why we do need somebody that’s like a coronavirus czar as we had during the Ebola situation. And so far we don’t have such a person to work across the departments.”

Ronald Klain, who held the Ebola position in the Obama White House, said, “One cabinet secretary cannot run an interagency response. Azar has the biggest civilian job in the American government. Is he doing this in his spare time?”

On Tuesday, Mr. Azar told a Senate panel that medical supplies were badly needed for the nation’s emergency stockpile, including 300 million masks for health care workers alone, he said.

Mr. Azar was visiting the House on Wednesday, where he was met by bipartisan concern over the Trump administration’s response so far.

At a morning hearing on his department’s budget, lawmakers questioned him about public health-related cuts the Trump administration has proposed, in addition to his plans to fund the coronavirus response, for which the White House has sought billions of dollars from Congress.

A chart obtained by The bioreports on Tuesday shows that Mr. Azar is proposing shuffling money from key health programs to fund the administration’s response, including some that are central to Mr. Trump’s agenda, like H.I.V. and AIDS prevention, rural health and cancer research.

When he announced his coronavirus proposal Wednesday morning, Mr. Schumer pointed to the $6 billion Congress appropriated for a 2006 flu pandemic and the $7 billion it carved out for the H1N1 flu in 2009. His new plan includes $3 billion for a public health emergency fund, $1.5 billion for the C.D.C., $1 billion for vaccine development and $2 billion for reimbursing states and cities for efforts they have so far made to monitor and prepare for potential new cases of the virus.

Mr. Azar will most likely defend broader public health cuts separate from the White House’s plans to transfer money to handle coronavirus efforts. The president’s budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October would slash the C.D.C.’s budget by almost 16 percent, and the Health and Human Services Department’s by almost 10 percent. Tens of millions of dollars would come from the department’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and its Hospital Preparedness Program, which helps hospitals handle surges of patients during disease outbreaks.

Maggie Haberman, Jim Tankersley and Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

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