WASHINGTON – President Trump on Wednesday put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak that's expected to spread widely in the United States.
And a day after enduring searing criticism from Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and others regarding the administration's response to the coronavirus, the president expressed a willingness to work with Congress to expand funding for the fight against the quickly spreading health threat.
At an early evening press conference, Trump said he appointed Pence to take charge because he had experience leading public health efforts while serving as governor of Indiana.
"Mike will be working with the professionals, doctors and everybody else that's working" on the outbreak at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, Trump said. "The team is brilliant."
Meanwhile, Trump continued to minimize the threat that the coronavirus might pose.
“We have quarantined those infected and those at risk,” he said.
The U.S. has reported 60 coronavirus cases so far, far lower than the outbreak in China – which reported 406 new cases on Tuesday alone, along with 52 additional deaths from the mysterious flu-like illness.
"Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low," Trump said.
Trump said that a day after Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the coronavirus would probably spread widely across the nation.
The president acknowledged that the government might have to spend far more than the $2.5 billion he wants to set aside to fight the coronavirus.
In Congress, "some Republicans would like us to get $4 billion and some Democrats would like us to get $8.5 billion, and we'll be satisfied whatever it is," Trump said.
Trump made it clear, though, that he's not happy that Schumer, a New York Democrat, has been criticizing the administration's coronavirus response.
"Cryin' Chuck Schumer, he goes out and he says: the president only asked for $2.5 billion, he should have asked for more," Trump said. "It is the first time I've ever been told that we should take more. ... And we should be working together. He shouldn't be making statements like that because it's so bad for the country."
Schumer continued criticizing the Trump administration's coronavirus response even during the press conference.
"Any emergency coronavirus funding supplemental Congress approves must include provisions ensuring: 1—Pres. Trump can't transfer the funds to anything other than coronavirus; 2—Vaccines are affordable & available to all who need it; 3—State & local governments are reimbursed," Schumer tweeted.
The Trump-Schumer exchange amid the president's press conference capped a second day of jousting over the Trump administration's handling of the crisis.
After Trump proposed spending $2.5 billion on the coronavirus fight – with the money going to try to find a vaccine and for protective equipment– Schumer on Wednesday outlined a $8.5 billion emergency response proposal that calls for far more such funding in America, along with additional federal spending overseas.
“This proposal brings desperately needed resources to the global fight against coronavirus," Schumer said. "Americans need to know that their government is prepared to handle the situation before coronavirus spreads to our communities."
Those were kind words compared to what Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday about Trump's response to the coronavirus situation.
"The harsh fact of the matter is: the Trump administration has shown towering and dangerous incompetence when it comes to the coronavirus," Schumer said.
Members of the House from both parties did not exactly embrace Schumer's expanded coronavirus funding proposal.
One of Trump's congressional allies, Rep. Tom Reed, said Congress should begin by quickly funding Trump's $2.5 billion request and later set aside additional money if necessary.
Reed, a Republican from Corning who traveled with other lawmakers to Japan last week, said he saw on that visit the kind of profound impact the coronavirus can have.
"The reality of the situation is that this is coming to America's shores," Reed said on CNN. "I do agree with the assessments of the CDC, and seeing it firsthand in Japan. I think we just have to recognize this is coming. Let's be prepared. Let's work together to protect America."
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said it's too soon to know exactly how much money the federal government will have to spend to protect the nation from the coronavirus.
"I just think Congress needs to prepare, to do whatever we need to do as more information – fact-based information – becomes available in the coming days and weeks," Higgins said.
Higgins also said he had concerns that some $37 million of the funding for Trump's coronavirus proposal would come from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which serves about 70,000 families in Erie County.
That $37 million only represents about 1% of LIHEAP's budget, but Higgins said it would be better if the government got money to fight coronavirus by trimming funding for Trump's most treasured project: his wall at the Mexican border.
Meanwhile, in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he is setting aside $40 million in state funds to allow the Department of Health to hire additional staff, buy equipment and otherwise prepare for a coronavirus outbreak.
"It is highly probable that we will have people in New York State that test positive," Cuomo said. "New York is the front door internationally. We have people coming here from across the world. ... Our operating paradigm is always prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Story topics: Covid-19