WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that there has been “irresponsible rhetoric” from people who have downplayed the seriousness of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.
In an interview on the “TODAY” show, Savannah Guthrie asked what message Pence sends to people who aren’t afraid of the coronavirus and think it’s just politics and hype, quoting from President Donald Trump who said on Monday that the “fake news media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything to inflame the coronavirus situation.”
“There’s been some irresponsible rhetoric, but the American people should know President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety and well being of the people of this country,” Pence said in response but it was not clear who he was referring to.
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Pence, the head of the president’s coronavirus task force, said the administration would focus on communities that have experienced community spread of the virus and said Trump’s action on Wednesday night, suspending travel from Europe to the U.S., is “one more example of how he’s putting the health of America first.”
Trump announced in an Oval Office address Wednesday night that the U.S. will ban most foreign travelers from Europe, except the United Kingdom, for the next 30 days.
“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus,” Trump told the nation in only his second Oval Office address as president.
The administration’s travel restrictions will take effect Friday midnight and they only apply to foreign nationals, not U.S. citizens, green card holders or the families of U.S. citizens, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
His announcement came hours after the World Health Organization characterized the outbreak as a pandemic and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 1,400 points.
In the U.S., there have been more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 33 deaths.
The president has asked Congress to pass some sort of stimulus package that includes his proposed payroll tax cut. The House is expected to vote on a bill Thursday to provide coronavirus relief measures, including free coronavirus testing, paid emergency leave for workers and food security assistance, but not a payroll tax cut.
Rebecca Shabad is a congressional reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.