Feb 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The coronavirus is Trump's slow-burn crisis

Photo: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images

At 6:30 p.m. from the White House press room, President Trump will publicly make himself the face of America's response to the coronavirus crisis.

Why it matters: This is exactly the situation where a president needs the credibility to truthfully explain a tough situation to the public.

Back in the Ebola crisis of 2014, Trump did the opposite:

  • Aug. 2014: "The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!"
  • Oct. 2014: "Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting. Spreading all over Africa-and fast. Stop flights."

Reality check: The total U.S. Ebola fatality count was two, and not a single American died from contracting it in the U.S.

Now in 2020, Trump is expected to hold tonight's briefing with HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who is running point on the U.S. coronavirus response.

  • Azar to Congress earlier today: "The president and I spoke this morning when he returned from India. The president said, 'I want to keep being radically transparent, when you come over to brief me this evening, let’s sit and invite the press in.'"

The big picture: Barring a miracle, coronavirus will spread within our own borders.

  • Europe has cases in Austria, Croatia, Greece and Switzerland — all from people returning from Italy, not China.
  • Latin America is now on the board, via a Brazilian patient who returned from Italy.
  • In Asia, South Korea, Japan and Iran have also become epicenters, with total cases rapidly climbing.

Between the lines: Europe isn't rushing to close borders, and the U.S. is still allowing flights from Italy, South Korea and Japan.

  • In other words, it will probably take confirmed cases from those countries before flights are grounded.

What's next: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants $8.5 billion to combat the coronavirus. The Trump administration's request is $2.5 billion, including repurposing existing funds.

Go deeper: Axios' latest coronavirus coverage

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What the coronavirus means for Trump's presidency

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A poor response to the coronavirus could be politically devastating for President Trump, and so far his administration has given the strong impression that it’s still scrambling as the risk of a pandemic mounts.

Why it matters: There’s only so much any president can do to stop a virus from spreading, and for now the coronavirus is still very much under control within the U.S. But if the disease get worse in the months ahead, and if the administration seems to be caught off guard, that spells trouble for public confidence in Trump.

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