Pence, tapped to lead coronavirus response, vows US ‘ready for anything’
Vice President Pence, on the heels of being named to lead the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, on Thursday vowed that the federal government is prepared to confront any potential health crisis — while also declaring “this is not the time for partisanship,” in a bid to contain the political infighting surrounding that response.
“We’re ready. We’re ready for anything,” Pence said, echoing President Trump’s remarks a day earlier.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, Pence attempted to assuage mounting concerns over the virus while calling for political unity as the country seeks to halt the spread of the outbreak that has already killed at least 2,800 people worldwide and infected around 82,000.
“We’re all in this together. This is not the time for partisanship,” Pence said. “The American people expect us to work together.”
Pence added: “I promise you this administration will work with leaders in both parties, on the state and local level. This president will always put the health and safety of America first.”
Trump and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have been bickering over the response to the coronavirus, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying on Monday that Trump’s proposed $2.5 billion request to tackle the outbreak was “long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency.”
Trump fired back on Wednesday by calling Pelosi “incompetent” and accused her of using the virus for political point-scoring.
“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.”
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.
“With no plan to deal with the potential public and global health crisis related to the novel coronavirus, the Trump administration made an emergency supplemental appropriations request on Monday,” Schumer said in a statement Wednesday. “It was too little and too late — only $1.25 billion in new funding. For context, Congress appropriated more than $6B for the Pandemic Flu in 2006 and more than $7B for H1N1 flu in 2009.”
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 82,000 cases around the world — mainly in China.
The coronavirus, which causes a disease officially known as COVID-19, has not yet hit the U.S. as hard as it has hit many Asian countries, though U.S. authorities recently confirmed the first American coronavirus case that had no link to international travel in California, indicating the disease is now spreading in at least one American community. Other areas of the country are also currently testing suspected cases of coronavirus.
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.