- Vice President Mike Pence’s office will coordinate all public messaging and appearances by government officials concerning the Wuhan coronavirus, The New York Times reported Thursday.
- Officials told The Times the new approach would help streamline the administration’s public statements, which have crossed wires over the last several days.
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, was reportedly ordered by the White House to clear any statements he makes with the administration.
- Pence has a questionable history with public health and was accused of significantly exacerbating an HIV outbreak while governor of Indiana by ignoring official calls for a clean needle exchange.
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Vice President Mike Pence’s office will coordinate all public messaging and appearances by government officials concerning the Wuhan coronavirus, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Officials familiar with the strategy told The Times that the new approach would help streamline the administration’s public statements, some of which have been contradictory. The efforts will reportedly focus on getting officials on the same page for television appearances.
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Pence would coordinate the administration’s response to the virus.
“Mike is going to be in charge, and Mike will report back to me,” Trump said.
Two other officials are also helping lead the effort.
Pence announced that Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who leads the US effort to combat H.I.V. and AIDS, will be the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House. Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar is the chairman of the government’s coronavirus task force for the government broadly.
Pence’s position has sparked some concerns that the administration will spin critical information about the virus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, told associates that he was ordered by the White House not to make any more statements about the coronavirus without first having them approved by the administration.
Trump has accused Democrats and the media of exaggerating the severity of the threat posed by the virus, as he’s repeatedly downplayed it and spread misleading information.
“Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Coronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!”
Pence has a questionable history with public health. As governor of Indiana, he delayed the CDC’s recommended clean needle exchange in his state and helped exacerbate an HIV outbreak. The Yale School of Public Health conducted a study of the outbreak and determined that if Pence had acted more quickly, the number of people infected would have been 90% fewer.
As governor, Pence made significant cuts to Indiana’s public health budget, despite the state’s serious problems with infant mortality, obesity, and smoking — the last of which Pence has falsely claimed “doesn’t kill” people.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she told Pence she was concerned about his selection to lead the effort given his history of undermining public health efforts.
“I spoke with the vice president this morning, made some of these concerns known to him,” she said. “We have always had a very candid relationship and I expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position.”
Trump held a press briefing with government officials responsible for the coronavirus response on Wednesday night and downplayed the risk of the virus.
“We’re very, very ready for this, for anything, whether it’s going to be a breakout of larger proportions or whether or not, we’re, you know, we’re at that very low level,” Trump said Wednesday.