Coronavirus: Trump pushes old poll to claim public support for his handling of epidemic

Vulnerable Democratic senator urges Americans to listen to scientists, not politicians

John T. Bennett
Monday 02 March 2020 15:18
'Has he no shame?': Biden slams Trump over coronavirus

Donald Trump is pushing a weeks-old poll – conducted before a stock market drop – about the US government's response to the coronavirus outbreak while also accusing Democrats of "fearmongering" about the flu-like ailment.

The president on Sunday cited what he said was a New York Post survey that he claimed "says that 77% of 'US adults have confidence in their government's ability to handle the Coronavirus (Number One), compared to other health threats.'"

"Others way down on list," he wrote, seeming to mean previous presidents' responses to other health crises. "Our professionals are doing a great job!"

The latter claim could well be proven true if more Americans do not die from coronavirus, but the source of Mr Trump's claim about public confidence in his administration is unclear at best – and possibly outright fraudulent.

A Google site search of turned up no article on such a poll.

A White House spokesman was unable to provide The Independent with a link to a Post news product showing the 77 per cent confidence level.

The president might be incorrectly crediting the right-leaning New York tabloid. That's because a Gallup survey that wrapped up on 16 February did show a 77 per cent confidence level. The White House spokesman responded to an email seeking clarity by providing just a link to the Gallup survey.

But that poll was conducted before last week's stock market drop that reflected global markets' concerns about the Trump administration's plan to contain the mysterious virus.

What's more, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted around the same time – also before the market drop – found 60 per cent of Americans believed then the federal government was doing enough to counter the virus. (KFF is a non-profit organisation that focuses on health policy.)

As he does with just about every issue or controversy, the president has tried to describe himself as a sort of indirect coronavirus victim. He has used remarks in the White House briefing room, at reelection rallies, and other public events to accuse Democrats of trying to use the outbreak – which claimed its first American death over the weekend – to hurt him politically.

"I was criticised by the Democrats when I closed the Country down to China many weeks ahead of what almost everyone recommended. Saved many lives," he claimed in a Monday tweet before throwing down the victim card.

"Dems were working the Impeachment Hoax. They didn't have a clue! Now they are fear mongering. Be calm & vigilant!" he wrote.

On Saturday, Mr Trump was asked during a press briefing to explain his use of the word "hoax" when talking about the virus and Democrats during a campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, the previous night.

Mr Trump delivered an impassioned response, telling a reporter he meant Democrats' criticisms of him and his public health team amount to a "hoax" he puts on the same level as the Justice Department's Russia 2016 election meddling probe or House Democrats' Ukraine investigation that led to his impeachment.

A slew of congressional Democrats and that party's presidential candidates have sharply criticised the Trump administration for responding to the virus too slowly, and Mr Trump for a serious of questionable moves, including putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the federal response. Mr Pence is a science skeptic and has been hammered for what critics call his callous and slow response to a HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was governor of that state.

One moderate southern Democratic senator who is vulnerable in his reelection bid, Doug Jones of Alabama, said Monday he thinks the federal health system can prevent a major outbreak.

"I've got a good bit of confidence in the CDC," Mr Jones told CNN. "I hope that the people will listen to the scientists, and not the politicians."

Mr Trump and Mr Pence are scheduled to meet with drug manufacturers Monday afternoon, a meeting long on the books to discuss bringing down prescription drug prices. The group also will discuss a potential coronavirus vaccine, with the president claiming Monday morning "good progress" is being made on that. Senior administration officials said Friday a possible vaccine would be months away, if an effective one can be cleared for distribution.

Mr Pence will brief reporters on the government's response and the situation with the virus at 5pm ET.

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