Partisanship complicates U.S. coronavirus reactions

As fears of a coronavirus pandemic rise, the response from Washington politicians has taken a decidedly partisan tone, and information from experts has become closely guarded.

One day after painting a dire picture at a Wednesday news conference at the White House about the possible effects of the infection, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was directed by the Trump administration to not say anything further about the virus without clearing it first, the New York Times reported.

Speaking after Trump boasted of the “tremendous success” of his administration’s response to coronavirus threat, Fauci gave a less optimistic view.

“When it was focused only on China, we had a period of time, temporary, that we could do a travel restriction that prevented cases from coming into the U.S.,” Fauci said. “When you have multiple countries involved, it’s very difficult to do. In fact, it’s almost impossible.”

Also on Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state was “monitoring” 8,400 people for possible coronavirus infection, based on possible exposure. The day before, California recorded the first known case of the disease in an American who had not traveled abroad, indicating its potential to spread domestically.

In an interview with CNN last week, Fauci said “we are clearly at the brink” of a pandemic.

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging for the third day in a row on fears of an economic downturn, and one day after officials at the Centers for Disease Control agreed with Fauci’s prediction that the virus will inevitably spread in the U.S., Trump’s messaging alternated between trying to assuage fears about the virus and an effort to score political points against Democrats.

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Vice President Mike Pence bumps elbows with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, during a news conference, Thursday, March 5, 2020, at Camp Murray in Washington state. Pence was in Washington to discuss the state's efforts to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and officials have been avoiding shaking hands to prevent the spread of germs. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
In this image from video, provided by the California National Guard, airmen with the 129th Rescue Wing drop virus testing kits down to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California Thursday, March 5, 2020. Scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials ordered a cruise ship with 3,500 people aboard to stay back from the California coast Thursday until passengers and crew can be tested, after a traveler from its previous voyage died of the disease and at least two others became infected. The California National Guard 129th Rescue Wing lowered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-meter) Grand Princess by rope as the vessel lay at anchor off Northern California, and authorities said the results would be available on Friday. Princess Cruise Lines said fewer than 100 people aboard had been identified for testing. (California National Guard via AP)
A woman wears a face mask to protect against the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) after arriving at the LAX airport in Los Angeles, California on March 5, 2020. - California has declared a state of emergency as the number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths in the US continues to climb. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Empty containers for travel hand sanitizer are seen at a store following warnings about COVID-19 in Kirkland, Washington on March 5, 2020. - The US reported its first case of the disease in January and its first death on February 29 -- both in the state of Washington in the country's Pacific Northwest. Since then the toll has risen to 11 and the virus has spread to at least 14 states, infecting more than 180 people, according to an AFP tally. On Thursday, Washington state officials announced a jump in cases, from 39 to 70. Ten of the 11 deaths have been reported there, with the other in California. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
Mike Weatherill, holds a photo of his mom Louise Weatherill, 85, a resident of Life Care Center who died, speaks during a press conference held by family of residents of the nursing home, where some patients have died from COVID-19, in Kirkland, Washington on March 5, 2020. - The US reported its first case of the disease in January and its first death on February 29 -- both in the state of Washington in the country's Pacific Northwest. Since then the toll has risen to 11 and the virus has spread to at least 14 states, infecting more than 180 people, according to an AFP tally. On March 5, Washington state officials announced a jump in cases, from 39 to 70. Ten of the 11 deaths have been reported there, with the other in California. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 5: Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a press conference to address the first confirmed case of Coronavirus in Colorado at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday, March 5, 2020. Gov. Jared Polis said the first confirmed individual is a man in his 30s, who traveled to Italy last month and was recreating in Colorado. Polis added that the man's girlfriend, who was traveling with him has been quarantined. A second case was reported during the press conference, but no information was provided by Polis or the officials flanking him. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Adilisha Patrom, owner of a co-working and event space next to Gallaudet University, organizes face masks, hand sanitizer and other supplies inside her pop up shop on Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Washington. Inside her storefront, she displays different face mask models and hand sanitizer bottles alongside information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/Nathan Ellgren)
In this March 4, 2020 photo, two women wear masks as they ride a subway train, in New York. Two more cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed in New York City, raising New York state's total to 13, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
A security guard wears gloves while holding a basketball during halftime of an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets Thursday, March 5, 2020, in Houston. The NBA has told players to avoid high-fiving fans and strangers and avoid taking any item for autographs, the league's latest response in its ongoing monitoring of the coronavirus crisis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Vice President Mike Pence, left, bumps elbows with Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, right, Adjutant General of Washington State, before a tour of the Washington State Emergency Operations Center, Thursday, March 5, 2020 at Camp Murray in Washington state to discuss the COVID-19 coronavirus. Officials are avoiding shaking hands as a precaution against the virus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Golden State Warriors fan Brandon Lai wears a mask because of the coronavirus outbreak before attending an NBA basketball game between the Warriors and the Toronto Raptors in San Francisco, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A police officer wears a face mask inside El Alto airport in Bolivia, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. With Brazil reporting the first case of the COVID-19 virus, neighboring countries and other nations around Latin America are attempting to block the possible arrival of the virus. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Passengers wear face masks to protect against the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) after arriving at the LAX airport in Los Angeles, California on March 5, 2020. - California has declared a state of emergency as the number of novel coronavirus cases and deaths in the US continues to climb. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Foreign diplomats wearing face masks attend at a briefing by South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on the situation of the COVID-19 outbreak in Korea, at the foreign ministry in Seoul Friday, March 6, 2020. (Jung Yeon-je /Pool Photo via AP)
People wearing face masks walk through a subway station in Beijing, Friday, March 6, 2020. North Korea said Friday it has released several hundred foreigners from a quarantine imposed as part of its vigilant prevention efforts to avoid an outbreak of the coronavirus that has spread around the world. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A worker produces hand sanitizer at the Companhia Nacional do Álcool (CNA) factory in Piracicaba, Brazil, Tuesday, March 3, 2020. Last week the factory added a second shift of workers to produce more hand sanitizer, and while the CNA was never an exporter, it's considering that by adding a third shift. One week ago, Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first case of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)
A Child is seen wearing a mask inside an MTR Train on February 22, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. the coronavirus or Covid-19 which originated from Wuhan China has infected over 77,000 and killed 2361 worldwide to date. (Photo by Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Iran's health ministry raised Sunday the death toll from the new virus to 8 people in the country, amid concerns that clusters there, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus in downtown Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. On Sunday Iran's health ministry raised the death toll from the new virus to 8 people in the country, amid concerns that clusters there, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
This Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, shows medical workers in protective suits at a coronavirus detection lab in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. The fresh national figures for the disease that emerged in China in December came as the number of viral infections soared mostly in and around the southeastern city of Daegu, where they were linked to a local church and a hospital. (Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP)
Mary Cahill, left, leaves a news conference where officials discussed the proposal for housing coronavirus patients at the Fairview Development Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. A court temporarily blocked the U.S. government from sending up to 50 people infected with a new virus from China to the Southern California city for quarantine after local officials argued that the plan lacked details about how the community would be protected from the outbreak. (Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register via AP)
Personnel carry new beds inside the hospital of Codogno, near Lodi in Northern Italy, Friday, Feb. 21,2020. Health officials reported the country's first cases of contagion of COVID-19 in people who had not been in China. The hospital in Codogno is one of the hospitals - along with specialized Sacco Hospital in Milan - which is hosting the infected persons and the people that were in contact with them and are being isolated. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Una persona toma fotografías cerca del crucero Diamond Princess en cuarentena, en el puerto de Yokohama, cerca de Tokio, el viernes 21 de febrero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
A medic worker disinfects a room in the sanatorium after the quarantine period has ended in Bogandinsky in the Tyumen region, about 2150 kilometers (1344 miles) east of Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. 144 people who were evacuated from the epicenter of the CONVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, were released from a 14-day quarantine in western Siberia. None of them tested positive for the virus. (AP Photo/Maxim Slutsky)
Un trabajador vestido con un traje de protección rocía desinfectante como precaución contra un coronavirus en una estación de metro de Seúl, Corea del Sur, el 21 de febrero de 2020. (AP Foto/Ahn Young-joon)
Workers wearing protective gears help clean each other's suits after disinfecting as a precaution against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. South Korea on Friday declared a "special management zone" around a southeastern city where a surging viral outbreak, largely linked to a church in Daegu, threatens to overwhelm the region's health system. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Un autobús con pasajeros del buque crucero en cuarentena Diamond Princess sale del puerto de Yokohama, cerca de Tokio, Japón, jueves 20 de febrero de 2020. Dos pasajeros ancianos han muerto, siendo las primeras víctimas fatales del nuevo virus en el buque. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a joint press conference of the Co-Chairs Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers' meeting on the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia in Vientiane, Laos, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
En esta fotografía publicada por la agencia noticiosa Xinhua, un farmacéutico procesa gránulos de la medicina tradicional china en el hospital provincial de Gansu especializado en este tipo de medicina, en Lanzhou, en la provincia noroccidental china de Gansu, el jueves 20 de febrero de 2020. La medicina tradicional china se ha utilizado ampliamente para combatir la enfermedad causada por el nuevo coronavirus. (Fan Peishen/Xinhua vía AP)
En esta foto distribuida por la embajada de Ucrania en China, una pasajera ucraniana hace una señal de victoria en el bus del aeropuerto al avión chárter que evacuará a unas 70 afectadas por el brote de un nuevo virus. Entre los evacuados hay 45 ucranianos y 27 personas de Argentina, República Dominicana, Costa Rica, Panamá, Israel y Ecuador. (AP Foto/Servicio de Prensa del Ministerio del Exterior de Ucrania)
Clinical support technician Douglas Condie extracts viruses from swab samples as analytic work continues to examine the genetic structure of a virus in the coronavirus testing laboratory at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland, Wednesday Feb. 19, 2020. The COVID-19 virus originally centred in China now has multiple cases confirmed worldwide. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)
In this Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, patients infected with the coronavirus take rest at a temporary hospital converted from Wuhan Sports Center in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. China reported thousands new virus cases and more deaths in its update Tuesday on a disease outbreak that has caused milder illness in most people, an assessment that promoted guarded optimism from global health authorities. (Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via AP)
In this Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, photo, volunteers make the handmade cotton masks in Hong Kong. Volunteers from a Hong Kong theater group are turning their backstage skills to helping out against the new coronavirus, sewing reusable protective masks for those who can't access or afford them. Jo Ngai, a drama lover and founder of the Nonsensemakers, along with her friend Jessie Han, have turned a theater rehearsal room into a temporary handmade mask factory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. (NIAID-RML via AP)
In this Feb. 16, 2020, photo, runners, some wearing masks, compete in a Kumamoto castle marathon in Kumamoto city, western Japan. Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon set for March 1, 2020 are drastically reducing the number of participants out of fear of the spread of the coronavirus from China. The general public is essentially being barred from the race. (Kyodo News via AP)
En esta imagen del 17 de febrero de 2020, autobuses con pasajeros del crucero en cuarentena Diamond Princess salen de un puerto en Yokohama, cerca de Tokio. (AP Foto/Jae C. Hong, Archivo)
Family members of Pakistani students studying in Wuhan, China, hold a demonstration calling for the evacuation of their relatives after the Chinese city was badly hit by the coronavirus, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
A group of quarantined passengers exercise on the Diamond Princess cruise ship Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. A viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 67,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 23: In this handout image provided by South Korean Presidential Blue House, South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting about coronavirus (COVID-19) at a government complex on February 23, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea reported 169 new cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) bringing the total number of infections in the nation to 602, with the potentially fatal illness spreading fast across the country. (Photo by South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) attends a meeting at the new COVID-19 coronavirus infectious disease control headquarters at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on February 23, 2020. - Japan on February 23 confirmed the first case of a former Japanese passenger of a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship testing positive for the disease after initially receiving a clean bill of health. (Photo by STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP) / JAPAN OUT (Photo by STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images)
TAIPEI, TAIWAN - 2020/02/23: Commuters in the Taipei MRT system all wearing surgical mask as the 2019 Novel coronavirus that originated in China is spreading to other countries worldwide. Taiwan authorities fear a serious pandemic and people are advised to wear surgical masks especially when confined in small spaces such as public transports. (Photo by Alberto Buzzola/LightRocket via Getty Images)
WUHAN, Feb. 22, 2020 -- A staff member handles nucleic acid testing samples at a novel coronavirus detection lab in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 22, 2020. Since its operation on Feb. 6, the novel coronavirus detection lab named "Huoyan", jointly constructed by the local government and other institutions, has tested tens of thousands of nucleic acid testing samples. For days, including the "Huoyan" lab, Wuhan's 40 NAT institutions together, have been able to test 14,000 NAT samples per day, zeroing the number of daily NAT from all possible coronavirus patients. (Photo by Cheng Min/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Cheng Min via Getty Images)
BEIRUT, LEBANON - FEBRUARY 22: Students wear masks to protect themselves from coronavirus as a precaution in Beirut, Lebanon on February 22, 2020. Lebanese Health Minister Dr. Hamad Hassan made a statement on first coronavirus case at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital. (Photo by Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A Lebanese nurse wearing a protective mask works at a ward where the first case of coronavirus in the country is being treated, at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in the southern outskirts of the capital Beirut, on February 22, 2020. - Lebanon confirmed on February 21, the first case of the novel coronavirus, found in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from the holy city of Qom in Iran, while two other cases were being investigated. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP) (Photo by ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images)
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: An LED screen shows Southampton's support against the coronavirus during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Aston Villa at St Mary's Stadium on February 22, 2020 in Southampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
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While claiming that his administration’s response to coronavirus had resulted in “tremendous success beyond what many people would’ve thought,” he also blamed the Democratic presidential debates for the stock market plunge.

Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump

“I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage, making fools out of themselves, and they say, ‘If we ever have a president like this,’” Trump said in reference to the Democratic presidential debate this week in South Carolina. “When they look at the statements made by the people standing behind those podiums, I think it has a huge effect.”

The president also responded to criticism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that his administration had put forth a response effort to the virus that was “meager” and “anemic.”

“I think Speaker Pelosi is incompetent. I think she’s not thinking about the country,” Trump said. He accused her of “trying to create a panic” over the virus.

“I hope that it’s going to be a very little problem, but we have to work together. Instead she wants to do the same thing with ‘Crying’ Chuck Schumer,” he said.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that news media he views as hostile are trying to make him look bad by exaggerating the threat posed by coronavirus. He spelled it wrong.

Shortly after Trump’s press conference, Pelosi issued a statement the said the administration had “mounted an opaque and chaotic response to this outbreak.”

“The Trump Administration has left critical positions in charge of managing pandemics at the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security vacant,” Pelosi’s statement continued. “The Trump Budget called for slashing almost $700 million from the Centers for Disease Control. And even now, the Administration continues to devalue Americans’ health security by ransacking funding from other vital public health needs.”

Pelosi also responded to Trump’s claim that the stock market was falling because investors were frightened by the Democrats’ debate in South Carolina Tuesday night.

“You really have to wonder. He said the reason the market dropped was because of the debate the other night. Well, the market had dropped 1,800 points before the debate the other night,” Pelosi said, adding “Let’s not be silly about what this is.”

Democratic candidates seeking to replace Trump in the White House also trod the tricky line of mixing politics and public health. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced a bill that would divert funds from construction of Trump’s border wall to public health measures.

“The coronavirus outbreak poses serious health, diplomatic and economic threats to the United States, and we must be prepared to confront it head on,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement. “Rather than use taxpayer dollars to pay for a monument to hate and division, my bill would help ensure that the federal government has the resources it needs to adequately respond to this emergency.”

At a CNN town hall on Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden also blasted Trump for his budget priorities. “He goes and he takes away the office we set up that’s designed to deal with pandemic disease,” Biden said of Trump, adding that the president “tried to defund the CDC. He tried to defund the NIH. He did not have a plan to deal with how you equip hospitals.”

During Tuesday’s presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders mocked Trump over what he describes as the president’s distrust of science.

“This great genius has told us that this coronavirus is going to end in two months. April is the magical day that this great scientist we have in the White House has determined. I wish I was kidding. That is what he said,” Sanders said.

Infectious disease experts say the transmission of many respiratory viruses, such as seasonal flu, slows in hot, humid weather, but that has not been tested in the case of coronavirus, which was first identified just two months ago.

The concern among many Democrats that public health information will be distributed without political interference from the White House remained after Trump’s press conference, just as some Republicans believed the opposing party was using the coronavirus issue to weaken the president politically. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, for instance, has accused a CDC official of weaponizing the coronavirus out of enmity for the president.

Vice President Mike Pence, the man Trump has put in charge of coordinating the government response to the coronavirus, spoke Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference about the challenges ahead.

“I promise you, we will continue to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to protect the American people,” Pence told the crowd. “And as the president also said, it’s important to remember we’re all in this together. This is not the time for partisanship.”

Shortly thereafter, however, partisanship found its way into his remarks. “I know you’re going to say ‘yes’ to four more years of Donald Trump in 2020.”

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