Trump to hold news conference as White House is on defensive over coronavirus response

Trump has scheduled a 6:30 p.m. ET news conference.

But while the President and senior administration officials have publicly downplayed the impact of the virus, the White House is also considering appointing a coronavirus czar and adding travel restrictions to address the crisis.
The stock market decline has especially exacerbated Trump’s rising concerns over how to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus even though he has publicly declared the virus to be “very much under control in the USA,” multiple people tell CNN.

Investors are growing concerned about the economic impact of the coronavirus, as is the President, whose reelection campaign is banking on a strong economy.

Trump has been publicly downplaying the novel coronavirus’ effects, because he thinks doing otherwise could cause further panic in the markets — and he’s been frustrated with officials issuing warnings about the unknowns of the virus’s spread. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is one aide who encouraged Trump to downplay the latest developments, at least publicly, one person says.
“I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away,” Trump said Tuesday in New Delhi.
But that same day, one of the top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans that health experts foresee the coronavirus that has killed thousands abroad spreading in the US.

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

As CNN previously reported, Trump has been privately lashing out at officials for coronavirus-related decisions. His instinct has been to seal off the US from those testing positive, even Americans, though he acknowledged at a press conference in India that allowing them back into the US was the right thing to do.

According to administration sources, Trump has been displeased with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — for failing to keep him updated on crucial decisions concerning the virus — and Messonnier — the CDC official who has been a public face of the coronavirus response — for what officials claim is overly fatalistic messaging.

White House officials have privately weighed appointing a czar to oversee the administration’s response to the growing novel coronavirus outbreak, despite public denials by members of the administration, sources familiar said.

But publicly, the White House has maintained that the President is confident in the current efforts by administration officials already appointed to assist with the coronavirus response.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere tweeted Wednesday that a report indicating Trump was weighing whether to appoint a czar “is not true!”

Azar told lawmakers that he doesn’t anticipate a czar being appointed anytime soon.

Lawmakers have also called on Trump to appoint someone to oversee the response, which came up during a clash over the administration’s request for more coronavirus funding. Some White House officials accused HHS of requesting disproportionate amounts of money to cover up what one official described as Azar’s “mismanagement.”

Schumer announces $8.5 billion request for emergency coronavirus funding
Trump’s return to Washington also corresponds with the start of a potential federal funding fight to respond to the virus.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, is expected to request $8.5 billion to combat the coronavirus, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide. That’s a dramatic jump from the $2.5 billion in total funding and only $1.25 billion in new funding the White House has proposed.

Travel restrictions under consideration

Earlier this month, the US began implementing travel restrictions on foreign nationals who had visited China and US citizens who have been near the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China’s Hubei province. Before Trump announced the China restrictions, there was a debate inside the White House about the logistics of applying such a ban.

And behind the scenes, Trump is pushing for more travel restrictions on countries where the virus is spreading to, administration officials tell CNN, but so far, no decisions have been made.

Administration officials have been privately weighing imposing additional travel bans similar to the one the US has already imposed with regard to foreigners who have been in China, a senior administration official and sources close to the White House said.

“If it gets to the point where we need to do that, we will,” a senior administration official said.

The administration increased the travel advisory warning for Japan and South Korea earlier this week, so those two countries would be likely targets for increased travel restrictions.

Trump downplays virus despite own team's alarming warnings

There have been more than 80,000 cases of coronavirus globally and the death toll has risen to more than 2,700, the majority in mainland China.

The US has 60 confirmed cases, US health officials said Tuesday, a number that is expected to grow.

Despite the spread of the virus, World Health Organization officials are not yet calling this a pandemic, though they’re close.

In January, the WHO declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, Eliott C. McLaughlin and James Griffiths contributed to this report.


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