President Trump on Wednesday evening defended his administration’s preparedness for the new coronavirus, saying that the risk to the American public remains low and that Vice President Mike Pence will be his point person leading the federal response to the outbreak.
Trump also said that he is willing to spend more than the $2.5 billion in emergency funding the White House requested from Congress this week.
“We were asking for $2.5 billion, and we think that’s a lot,” Trump said at a news conference. “But the Democrats and I guess Senator Schumer wants us to have much more than that. Normally in life, I’d say, ‘We’ll take it, we’ll take it.’ If they want to give more, we’ll do more. We’re going to spend whatever is appropriate. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to spend so much because we really think we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum.”
The administration asked Congress for $1.25 billion in new funding to deal with the coronavirus and proposed to redirect about the same amount from other programs, bringing total funding in its proposal to at least $2.5 billion. Lawmakers in both parties quickly questioned whether that would be enough.
Here are other developments on the federal response to the virus:
Azar says administration may seek more money: Facing a second day of tough questioning by lawmakers, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a House panel Wednesday that the administration is planning to spend “at least” the $2.5 billion it laid out in its plan this week and would work with Congress to determine an appropriate figure.
Lawmakers look to boost emergency funding: Bipartisan congressional negotiations on funding for the coronavirus response began Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal, as lawmakers from both parties continued to criticize the White House request as inadequate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the administration’s plan “meager” and “anemic,” while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the White House’s request for $1.25 billion in new funding “a little low” and said he expected that about $4 billion would be necessary, according to Bloomberg.
Schumer proposes $8.5 billion in emergency funds: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for $8.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus. Schumer’s proposal includes $3 billion for a public health emergency fund, $1.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $2 billion to reimburse state and local governments for their efforts, $1 billion for rapid vaccine development and $1 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development to deal with emerging health threats.
Schumer’s office reportedly noted that Congress appropriated more than $6 billion for a 2006 flu pandemic and more than $7 billion for the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009.
Democratic candidates slam Trump’s pandemic preparedness: At Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential primary debate, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar all attacked the Trump administration, criticizing the president’s removal of global health experts from his national security team and his proposed cuts in funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (for more on that, see below). “What's really happening here is the president fired the pandemic specialists in this country two years ago. So there's nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing,” Bloomberg said.
Last week, 27 senators sent a letter to national security adviser Robert O’Brien, asking him “to appoint a qualified, dedicated, senior global health security expert” to the National Security Council.