Schumer Blasts President Trump For Lack Of Leadership & Lack Of Plan To Address Spread Of Coronavirus

February 24, 2020

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Trump administration’s response to the spread of Coronavirus. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The World Health Organization has now reported that there are 79,000 cases of Coronavirus across at least 30 countries, at least 53 confirmed cases here in the United States. As the virus continues to spread, the global economy is already beginning to suffer.

All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic and the administration has no plan. We have a crisis of Coronavirus and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts, or how to coordinate a response. We must get a handle on the Coronavirus and make sure the United States is fully prepared to deal with its potentially far-reaching consequences.

But the Trump administration has been asleep at the wheel.

President Trump: Good Morning! There’s a pandemic of Coronavirus, where are you? Where is your plan?

It’s just amazing: as the crisis grows and grows, we hear nothing. Coronavirus testing kits have not been widely distributed to our hospitals and public health labs. President Trump’s State Department overruled the recommendations of the scientists in the CDC and allowed infected passengers from a cruise ship to be flown back into the United States. And, amazingly, at a time when we know that these pandemics can spread, this Administration cut the CDC, the agency in charge of fighting these global viruses, with a senseless 16% cut to its budget!

And my fellow Americans, that’s what they do on all these things: they just cut, and then the president tries to claim credit after we restore the money. He did it in his State of the Union. He was claiming: because of his great work with NIH, we’re curing cancer. He’s cut the NIH every budget, including this one.

It is a disgrace how this man can say one thing and do another, and it’s confounding that it doesn’t catch up with him—with too many Americans and none of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

And it’s probably, right now, most dangerous and most egregious when it comes to Coronavirus. It wasn’t just that the president cut CDC last year—it follows years of drastic cuts to the global health division at CDC by the Trump Administration. In 2018, CDC was forced to reduce the number of countries it operated in from 49 to 10. That’s how bad it is. We have crises. We have a world that’s different. And this administration, instead of stepping up to the plate, runs away, listening to the clarion call of the far-right—just cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, no matter how it affects people.

In 2018, even worse, President Trump ordered the National Security Council to scupper its entire global health security unit and asked the Department of Homeland Security to do the same. We don’t have epidemic teams in the National Security Council or DHS. I hope—pray to God—that Coronavirus doesn’t spread here. But if it does, we’ve been inadequately prepared because of President Trump’s lack of leadership, lack of understanding science, lack of ability to listen to experts and do something about them—instead of being concerned, it seems all the time, with his own ego.

The president has not even taken the simple, sensible step of designating a single official to lead response efforts. In 2014, President Obama made the smart decision to appoint Ron Klain to lead the interagency response to the Ebola outbreak.

But President Trump, in contrast, has hollowed out so many agencies that one of the key figures responding to coronavirus is Ken Cuccinelli—an immigration hardliner with no experience in public health. Unbelievable. A man totally unprepared for Coronavirus, an ideologue, a right-wing nasty ideologue, who has spent his career kicking around immigrants, is now someone in charge of our fight with Coronavirus. This is after the president cut CDC, eliminated the global health security units in Homeland Security and at the NSC. And we are in trouble.

President Trump has not only failed to marshal a capable domestic response to the coronavirus, he has been slow to take action to confront the virus abroad. We all know that the best thing to do is to stop it from spreading abroad before it spreads to these United States.

And, of course, the president—ego above anything else—has been afraid to criticize President Xi or the Communist Party of China for silencing dissent and obscuring the truth about the Coronavirus, where it originated. When China obscures the truth, it puts Americans in danger. Where is President Trump’s voice? The videos emerging from behind the Chinese Communist Party’s internet wall show Chinese people pleading—pleading—with the international community to expose the scope and scale of this epidemic.

The response so far by the Trump administration is exactly what happens when science skeptics with alternative facts try to run emergency response that requires expertise, planning, knowledge, money, cooperation, and science-based actions. But being anti-science is not just rhetoric. It hurts us. It hurts every American, in many ways. And that’s what President Trump and his administration do, and our Republican colleagues just blithely go along.

After months of tiptoeing around the Chinese Communist Party, after three years of cutting funding for our epidemic response programs, President Trump simply has left the United States unprepared to confront a possible pandemic like Coronavirus.

I’ll have more to say this week about what the administration must do to right the ship.