President Donald Trump went ahead with a campaign rally in South Carolina on Friday, even as his administration struggles to reassure Americans that they aren’t threatened by the coronavirus outbreak.
“So far, we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States. Nobody,” Trump told the cheering crowd in Charleston, crediting his policies. “And it doesn’t mean we won’t.”
But he said his administration is prepared for “the worst,” and dismissed media “hysteria.” He also asserted that Democrats support border policies that could promote the spread of the virus.
Markets extended their rout on Friday, with the benchmark S&P 500 index falling 11% for the week, the most since October 2008, on concerns the spread of coronavirus will be a drag on the global economy. The sell-off has continued despite efforts by Trump and his top officials to calm investors’ fears.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic frontrunner, said earlier Friday that Trump should scrap his rally -- the day before South Carolina’s Democratic primary -- and focus on containing the virus. “You would think that you’d have a president of the United States leading -- working with scientists all over the world, bringing people together to figure out how we’re gonna deal with this crisis,” Sanders said. “Hey, Mr. Trump, why don’t you worry about the coronavirus rather than disrupting the Democratic primary right here in South Carolina?”
For his part, Trump said this week that he’s trying to send “calming” signals to the public, and that includes keeping to his scheduled rally.
“Some people say I’m trolling Democrats, and maybe I am,” Trump said.
At the rally, Trump said Democrats’ border policies threaten the health of people in the U.S. “The Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans,” Trump said. “You see it with the coronavirus.”
He blamed Democrats for “politicizing the coronavirus” after he overcame the “impeachment hoax” and allegations about ties between his campaign and Russia.
“This," he declared, "is their new hoax.”
Trump on Wednesday tapped Vice President Mike Pence to oversee a task force managing the government’s response to the coronavirus. The president has at the same time appeared focused on politics.
As markets opened Friday morning and resumed the sell-off, Trump took to Twitter to deride Democratic candidate Tom Steyer and disparage a Fox News poll that predicted he’d lose his bid for reelection to most of the remaining Democratic candidates.
Pence, too, was working on Trump’s re-election Friday, flying to Florida for fundraisers. He scheduled a meeting to discuss coronavirus with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in between remarks in West Palm Beach to the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, and at a fundraiser for House Republicans in Sarasota.
The president and some White House officials have accused Democrats and the media of exaggerating the risk posed by the coronavirus, which has infected more than 83,000 people and killed more than 2,300 outside the U.S. And California has reported a second instance in which a person appeared to become infected via community spread, as opposed to, say, exposure to an ill foreign traveler.
The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends” on Friday that Democrats “seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”
No elected Democrat in Washington or presidential candidate has publicly made such remarks.
White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, speaking Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington, indicated that the administration is preparing for significant disruptions.
“Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. Maybe see impacts on public transportation? Sure, but we do this. We know how to handle this,” Mulvaney said.