President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he was ready to acquiesce to congressional demands and use billions more to fight coronavirus than he had originally requested for the effort.
The White House on Monday asked for $2.5 billion to fight the virus — half of which would have been re-directed from other, already-allocated sources like a fund to fight the Ebola virus.
After angry legislators said the White House wasn’t taking the coronavirus threat seriously enough, Trump, flanked at a press conference by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, seemed to acknowledge that he’d lowballed the first ask.
“We’ll take it. If they want to give more, we’ll do more,” he said of Congress. “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.”
He added: “Some Republicans would like us to get four [billion] and some Democrats would like us to get eight-and-a-half. We’ll be satisfied whatever it is.”
Still, the President managed to downplay the risk of the virus to an extent that clashed with public health experts in his administration. Some of his remarks Wednesday displayed downright ignorance of the situation.
“We’ve stopped non-U.S. citizens from coming into America from China,” he said at one point — which the Obama White House’s Ebola virus czar, Ronald Klain, pointed out was untrue.
Coronavirus, Trump said, was “like a flu” — that’s wrong, and echoed the mistake Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf made during congressional testimony, when he claimed the fatality rates for the flu and coronavirus were both around 2 percent. In reality, the flu’s fatality rate is around 0.1 percent.
Separately, Trump claimed a vaccine for the virus was being “rapidly” developed — without noting that, as the National Institutes of Health official Anthony Fauci later said, a vaccine would be 12 to 18 months away.
Health Secretary Alex Azar said of coronavirus, “The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly.”
Trump characterized it a little differently.
“Now, it may get bigger, it may get a little bigger, it may not get bigger at all,” he said. “we’ll see what happens. But regardless of what happens, we’re totally prepared.”