President Trump accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday of trying to create a panic around the coronavirus outbreak after the California Democrat criticized the White House’s emergency planning as “inadequate.”
Trump called Pelosi “incompetent” and accused her of using the virus for a political reason during a press conference where he sought to minimize fears of the virus spreading and announced that Vice President Mike Pence will head up Washington’s response to the outbreak.
“She’s trying to create a panic and there is no reason to panic,” Trump said. "All they are trying to is get a political advantage, but this shouldn’t be a political thing.”
In a statement Monday night, Pelosi called the president's request for $2.5 billion to tackle the coronavirus “long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency.” She said the House would advance "a strong, strategic funding package that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis.”
Trump has faced increased criticism from Democratic lawmakers and some health professionals that he is not doing enough to meet the mounting threat of the coronavirus.
On Capitol Hill, senior lawmakers called for a bipartisan spending package that would give federal, state and local officials more resources. Congress in recent years took a similar approach with the opioid epidemic, pumping out federal dollars for treatment and prevention. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York unveiled an $8.5 billion coronavirus proposal.
Schumer's $8.5 billion plan is more than triple Trump's request. It includes $4.5 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to work to contain the outbreak in the U.S., $1 billion to develop and manufacture a vaccine, $1 billion to help other countries battle the coronavirus, and $2 billion to reimburse states for costs incurred in tackling the outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday warned the American public to prepare for an outbreak of the disease, which has spawned more than 81,000 cases around the world -- mainly in China.
The count in the U.S. includes people who traveled back from outbreak areas in China or their spouses; three people who were evacuated from the central China city of Wuhan, and 42 Americans who were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were evacuated by the federal government to the U.S. from where the ship was docked in Japan.
Trump’s press conference was in part meant to assuage concerns that a full-fledged outbreak of the virus could soon occur in the United States.
"Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low," Trump said. "We're ready to adapt, and we're ready to do whatever we have to."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.