As fears grow of a politicized White House response to the coronavirus outbreak, the White House has placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of messaging about the virus, the New York Times reported Thursday.
Pence, who Trump said Wednesday night would be the White House point person on the outbreak, will clear public health officials’ statements on the virus, the Times reported citing several unnamed people familiar with the matter.
The White House also announced Thursday that top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, along with the surgeon general and the Treasury secretary, would join the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
If the Trump administration is telling public health officials at CDC or the National Institutes of Health what they can say, the Obama administration’s Ebola czar Ronald Klain tweeted of the Times’ report, “it is a danger to public health.”
Public health officials — rather than Trump loyalists like Kudlow — have been praised for speaking bluntly about the virus.
For example, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, Anthony Fauci, has spoken openly about the timetables for vaccines and therapies for coronavirus. While progress has been quick according to epidemiological standards, Fauci has repeatedly been clear that a vaccine is at least 12-18 months away. Trump, meanwhile, has simply said that vaccines are on the way “rapidly.”
Fauci has told associates that he’d been instructed by the White House not to say anything else without clearance, the Times reported Thursday.
Another public health official, Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control, said Tuesday, “We expect we will see community spread in this country.”
Markets plunged the same day, and Kudlow subsequently went on CNBC. The economic adviser claimed three times that the director-general of the World Health Organization had urged people not to “overreact” to the virus — something the WHO head hadn’t actually said.
Trump on Wednesday admitted his concern that the public’s perception of the virus was hurting markets; reports indicated he was furious about the stock market’s dive.
Asked about the financial markets, the President noted, “I do believe in terms of CNBC and in terms of Fox Business, I do believe that that’s a factor, yeah.”