Feb 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Obama Ebola czar rips Pence for controlling health officials' statements

Ronald Klain with President Obama in 2014. Photo: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg

The Obama administration's Ebola response coordinator Ronald Klain tore into the White House Thursday over a report in the New York Times that all public statements and appearances by health officials must be coordinated with the office of Vice President Mike Pence.

What they're saying: "I was the WH Ebola Response Coordinator in 2014-15," Klain tweeted. "We never told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or National Institutes of Health what they could say, or ever censored their medical statements. If the WH is doing that now, it is a danger to public health."

  • White House officials insisted to the Times that "the goal is not to control the content of what subject-matter experts and other officials are saying, but to make sure their efforts are being coordinated."
  • "The vice president wants clear, open and rapid communication," a senior administration official told Axios.

The big picture: President Trump announced Wednesday that Pence will be taking the lead on the administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams were also added to the coronavirus task force on Thursday.

  • Trump has faced criticism for contradictory statements he made at his press conference Wednesday, as he sought to downplay warnings from other health officials that the spread of the virus in the United States is likely inevitable.
  • Pence's public health record while serving as governor of Indiana has also been called into question. He opposed a clean-needle exchange program amid an AIDs breakout among drug users, and he made significant cuts to Indiana's public health budget.

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Mike Pence to local schools: It's OK to shut down over coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence appears in a pre-taped interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" in Washington, D.C. Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC

President Trump would "respect any decisions that are made at the state and local level" on actions to combat the novel coronavirus, including school shutdowns, Vice President Mike Pence told NBC in an interview airing Sunday.

Why it matters: COVID-19 is a major challenge for the Trump administration, with 66 infections and one death from the virus in the U.S., per a CDC statement Saturday. A poor response could be "politically devastating" for them, Axios' Alayna Treene and Sam Baker note.

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WHO official leads criticism of Trump's coronavirus response

President Trump with members of the new coronavirus task force at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Ezekiel Emanuel, special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization, told MSNBC Wednesday he found "most" of what President Trump said at his briefing on the novel coronavirus "incoherent."

The big picture: As the number of confirmed cases reaches 60 in the U.S., the top health professional — who was a health policy adviser in the Obama administration — is among several leading figures, in particular, Democrats, to criticize the president for his response to the outbreak.

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Pelosi and Schumer call for paid sick leave for coronavirus patients

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at a news conference in the Capitol, May 15, 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the Trump administration to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus by stepping up workers' protections with a series of new measures.

Details: Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement the administration should introduce paid sick leave for those impacted by COVID-19, enable widespread and free coronavirus testing access, expand programs such as SNAP food stamps, and reimburse patients for noncovered costs related to the virus.

Go deeperArrowMar 9, 2020 - Health