Democratic presidential candidates are questioning President Trump’s response to the global coronavirus outbreak and urging him, among other things, to do his “damn job.”
Candidates, many campaigning in South Carolina on the eve of the state’s primary election on Saturday, sharpened their criticism of the president as reports of new cases sparked fear in U.S. communities.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders accused the president of incompetence, noting that instead of working to manage the nation’s response to the outbreak, Trump traveled to South Carolina for a campaign rally on the eve of the Democratic primary. The state Republican Party had canceled its 2020 primary.
“He hopes that he can get a little media attention taken away from the Democratic candidates. How petty, how pathetic, is that?” Sanders told the crowd of several hundred at a rally in Columbia, the state capital.
In remarks aimed at Trump, he said: “Start worrying about the coronavirus and the healthcare crisis in America. Do your job as president.”
Earlier this week, Sanders said it was outrageous that if a vaccine for the virus is developed, the administration wouldn’t guarantee it would be available to all Americans. He argued that under his Medicare for All plan, nobody would be denied access to a vaccine.
Trump and White House officials have sought to calm increasing public concern, but they have also accused the news media of exaggerating the risks of the outbreak in order to harm the president. At the rally Friday night, Trump suggested Democrats were using the health crisis to bring him down. “This is their new hoax,” he said.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that U.S. residents should be prepared for the virus to spread and for major disruptions to everyday life. The World Health Organization warned of a “very high” risk of the virus’ spread and reported it had been detected in more than 50 countries.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in Sumter, S.C., kicked off an event by addressing the outbreak. He urged people not to panic, but called for a more robust response from the Trump administration.
“Like the rest of us, this virus is not impressed by his tweets. We need real action in the White House. Not more lies,” he said. “It is no surprise that the president who thinks climate change is a hoax also thinks coronavirus is a conspiracy.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized the administration on Twitter and introduced legislation in the Senate on Thursday that would redirect funding for Trump’s border wall toward combating the spread of the virus.
“President Trump failed to direct significant financial resources to his coronavirus response,” she said in a statement. Her bill would provide about $10 billion to combat the outbreak, she said.
We are facing a global pandemic and a potential economic crash, and this is how Donald Trump is spending his time. We need an adult in the White House. https://t.co/riO2DtQQ6c— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 28, 2020
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg made the case in South Carolina that if he were in Trump’s position, he would “never want to be the smartest person in the room.”
“When you have an issue like a virus that’s threatening lives and spreading around the world, don’t you want people around the president who will tell the president if things aren’t going quite right, and suggest an adjustment, right?” he said, according to tweets from a CNN reporter.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer slammed Trump this week for appointing Vice President Mike Pence as head of a coronavirus task force. Pence had been criticized for delayed action during an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was governor.
Steyer, in response to Trump calling him “a joke” on Twitter, said the president should be concentrating on the outbreak.
“You are failing in front of the whole world,” he wrote on Twitter. “Go do your damn job.”
Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg offered perhaps the harshest criticism on Friday, saying that the “incompetence in the White House is endangering lives and hurting our economy,” referencing the plunging U.S. stock market.
Bloomberg told a crowd in Memphis, Tenn., that investors “have no confidence that this president is capable of managing the crisis,” according to his campaign.
“In situations like these,” he said, “it’s critical the government provide clear, consistent, and honest answers.”
Halper reported from South Carolina and Gomez from Los Angeles.