House Democrats on Wednesday signed a letter urging President Trump to restore two teams within the national security apparatus dedicated to global health threats, calling the administration’s response to the outbreak of the new coronavirus “dangerously inadequate” and “frankly frightening.”
“In the face of such a threat, the American people need to know that there is a strategy being executed by competent leadership with adequate results. The growing evidence that such strategy is absent is deeply concerning to us,” the letter, led by Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and signed by 60 House Democrats, reads.
The letter draws attention to conflicting responses provided by government officials recently with regard to the virus’s spread and the hunt for a vaccine.
Last week, senior officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged the public to prepare for the virus to spread across the U.S. and cause “severe illness.” The same day, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow sought to downplay the emergency, falsely telling reporters that the virus had been “contained.”
Trump himself issued misleading statements on Monday at a press conference and later during campaign rally in North Carolina, claiming that a vaccine and “maybe a cure” would be made available “very quickly” or “relatively soon.” Public health officials, meanwhile, say a potential vaccine is at least 18 months away.
“The obvious and inescapable fact is that multiple Cabinet-level officials give different answers” when questioned about the trajectory of the outbreak or a timeline for a vaccine, the letter says.
It goes on to urge Trump to reestablish the global health threat teams on the White House National Security Council (NSC) and at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It notes that following the resignation of NSC official Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer nearly two years ago, there’s been no senior White House official tasked solely with monitoring global health security.
“The potential of a pandemic is not a matter of economic or political benefit, it is a matter of life or death,” the letter continues. “We urge you to immediately establish a strong chain of command for the U.S. government’s pandemic response with clearly identified authority to conduct an administration-wide response.”
“The level of chaos with which the administration has greeted the spread of the coronavirus is unacceptable and frankly frightening,” the lawmakers added.
The White House did not yet respond to a request for comment.
The letter comes as congressional members said they’d reached a bipartisan agreement on Wednesday for nearly $8.3 billion in emergency spending to combat the coronavirus. The deal is expected to reach the president’s desk by Friday. The funding will reportedly include $500 million to assist elderly Medicare patients in receiving tele-health services at home, according to the New York Times.
Nearly 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported worldwide, according to official counts. More than 3,200 people have died.