CAPITOL HILL - The U.S. government response to the deepening coronavirus crisis split lawmakers Tuesday, as Congressional Democrats disagreed with President Donald Trump's assertion the virus has been contained within the United States.
Trump said Tuesday the United States has the coronavirus "very well under control" within its borders, even as his administration is asking U.S. lawmakers for $2.5 billion in emergency funding to address the problem.
Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said containment efforts thus far have been "largely successful." But she cautioned that with more and more countries reporting cases in which a person does not know how or where they became infected, "containment at our borders becomes harder and harder."
"Ultimately we will see community spread in this country," she said at a news conference. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."
Senator Roy Blunt told reporters later Tuesday that while it's likely the coronavirus will spread in the United States, "there is an all-hands effort" across U.S. government agencies to learn everything possible to combat the crisis.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back against that assertion.
"This administration is in complete disarray when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus," Schumer told reporters Tuesday. Citing Trump's incorrect claim a coronavirus vaccine is ready, Schumer said, "They don't have their hands around this — they're just sort of freelancing because they were caught by surprise."
Trump said Tuesday during a press conference in New Delhi that while the U.S. is in good shape in terms of containment, "We do business with a lot of other countries, we take care of, we work with other countries, we want other countries to be happy, healthy and well."
The president's latest reassurances about the virus came after a difficult day on the U.S. stock market. The Dow Jones had its sharpest daily decline since 2018, amid growing global fears about the spread of the coronavirus. The United States has 14 confirmed cases of the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The administration's $2.5 billion emergency funding request sent to the U.S. Congress Monday is divided between $1.25 billion in new emergency funds and $1.25 billion in funds that will be diverted from other federal programs. The administration also is asking U.S. lawmakers to shift $535 million in funding for the treatment and prevention of the Ebola virus to addressing the coronavirus.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune told reporters the White House budget request was "a starting point" as lawmakers on appropriations committees work with U.S. government agencies to figure out their needs for combating the crisis.
But Democratic lawmakers said the Trump administration strategy is inadequate.
"Too little, too late," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the president's emergency funding request Monday. "We've seen no sign that President Trump has any plan or urgency to deal with the spread of the coronavirus — we need real leadership and we need it fast."
In a tweet earlier on Tuesday, Trump characterized Schumer's criticism as "for publicity purposes only" and said the Democratic lawmaker's response to the budget request was driven in part because "he didn't like my early travel closings."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the request makes no sense following the Trump administration's proposed 2021 budget cuts to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institute for Health (NIH) and other key agencies handling the growing threat.
"Americans need a coordinated, fully-funded, whole-of-government response to keep them and their loved ones safe," Pelosi said in a statement late Monday. "The President's request for coronavirus response funding is long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency."
She said the Democratic-majority House of Representatives will work quickly to move their own funding package that "fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis."
But Senate Republicans say they are satisfied with the administration's response following a closed-door briefing on coronavirus on Tuesday.
"The administration is on top of this," said Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, who is also a medical doctor. "They're adapting as they need to, trying to allocate resources where they're most effective."
Cassidy noted that if the administration's current emergency funding request is not adequate, additional money can be added on to the continuing resolution that lawmakers anticipate will fund the government as well as the 2021 budget request that is also being negotiated.
"Let's see how it evolves and then we can easily put more dollars in," he said.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said that while the administration's 2021 budget request was "completely backwards" in terms of cutting funding to key U.S. health agencies, it was difficult to say if the emergency funding request would be enough to address the threat.
"I don't know if it's enough," Durbin told reporters Tuesday. "I don't know if anybody knows if it's enough. But to talk about $2 billion at the outset here — that's not an unreasonable amount."