White House chief of staff claims press covering coronavirus to take Trump down

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Friday downplayed the threat of the coronavirus but acknowledged likely school closures and disruptions to public transportation in the United States as a result of the outbreak.

He also accused the press of peddling a false narrative about the administration “scrambling” to contain the virus, saying he briefed Congress with other top health officials six weeks ago. He accused the media of ignoring the coronavirus until now because publications were too preoccupied with Trump’s impeachment before that, which he called a “hoax.”

“Why didn’t you hear about it?” Mulvaney told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday morning in a discussion with Stephen Moore, an economic expert at the Heritage Foundation. “The press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president.”

Trump has similarly accused the media of stoking panic.

Mulvaney claimed that the press is only covering the virus now because they believe doing so will “take down the president.”

“Is it real? It absolutely is real,” Mulvaney said. “But you saw the president the other day — the flu is real.”

“Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure,” Mulvaney said, adding, “We know how to handle this.”

Mulvaney’s remarks came as the Trump administration’s efforts to combat the virus are coming under increasing scrutiny. He argued that the administration is well-prepared while asserting that the virus is less severe than past illnesses because it has a lower fatality rate, describing it as less deadly than Ebola, SARS and MERS.  

Mulvaney’s appearance at CPAC comes as President Trump has downplayed concerns about the virus, telling reporters at a news conference Wednesday that he didn’t believe the spread of the virus was inevitable.

The virus has been contained in the U.S. thus far, but health officials have said that its spread is likely. State and local officials may order school closures or otherwise limit public gatherings if the virus begins to spread communities.

The U.S. stock market has experienced sharp declines over the past week amid concerns about the virus, which originated in China and has spread quickly in other countries across the globe.

“What I might do to calm the markets is turn the television off for 24 hours,” Mulvaney told the crowd at CPAC Friday, mentioning a note he received from a reporter about what the administration’s plans were to ease concerns.

Trump on Wednesday tapped Vice President Pence to lead the government’s response efforts, and Pence has since tapped a career health official at the State Department, Debbie Birx, to coordinate those efforts.

“Congratulations and thank you to our great Vice President & all of the many professionals doing such a fine job at CDC & all other agencies on the Coronavirus situation,” Trump tweeted late Thursday. “Only a very small number in U.S., & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!” 

[The Hill]