(CNN)The White House is warning that more Americans will die of the coronavirus as news emerged that a second man had succumbed to the disease on US soil. Still, top officials are scrambling to show they are on top of the situation as new cases spring up from coast-to-coast.
Democratic presidential candidates, led by former Vice President Joe Biden, are ripping into President Donald Trump for politicizing the situation. The President, his son and his conservative media cheerleaders had earlier claimed that criticism of the administration’s efforts represented an orchestrated political campaign to bring him down.
On Capitol Hill, negotiators moved closer to an emergency funding package — perhaps worth as much as $7 billion — far above the White House’s request for a $2.5 billion one — to battle the virus, which is on the verge of becoming a global epidemic.
Stirred by the virus, the political maelstrom gripping Washington intensified as the first two Americans perished from the coronavirus. Two men have now died from the disease in Washington state’s King County. Both had underlying health issues, with one man in his 50s and the other was 70, officials said. There are now new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus or presumptive cases in California, Massachusetts, Washington state, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, Rhode Island, New York and Florida.
As the administration confronted a fast growing crisis, Vice President Mike Pence blanketed political talk shows Sunday in his new role as the head of the coronavirus task force. He was building on an apparent administration reset Saturday with a White House press conference involving the President and top medical officials.
Trump’s earlier rambling, contentious and widely criticized first public appearance on the issue last week as well as inflammatory remarks on the virus and Democrats at a campaign rally Friday night threatened to overshadow its mitigation efforts. His previous comments that the number of US cases could soon disappear and that his administration had made “tremendous” efforts to thwart the virus arriving in the US now look premature.
Pence said an emergency effort meant that 15,000 new coronavirus tests kits were sent out over the weekend. Trump announced new travel restrictions and screenings covering Iran and parts of Italy and South Korea.
The Vice President tried to keep the situation in perspective, but warned that there could be more deaths.
“For people that have other conditions — that would militate toward a worse outcome, then we could have more, we could have more sad news, but the American people should know the risk to the average American remains low,” Pence told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
There are now 88 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US, including 44 people evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and three from the epicenter of the virus in Wuhan, China. There are an additional 19 travel-related cases in America, and 18 person-to-person transmissions. The origin of four other cases, in Illinois and Rhode Island is not yet established.
Pence defended the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., for saying that Democrats were rooting for “millions” of Americans to die so the coronavirus could hurt Trump politically. And he complained that a President — who has done more to coarsen public life than any other modern politician — had been the target of “very strong rhetoric” from his opponents and the media.
Pence, who can be a talented communicator, gave a good impression of an administration that is coordinating across various government departments and is taking the threat of the virus seriously. His assessment of the situation was more coherent than the President’s comments in the news conference on Saturday, which were often light on details and sometimes contradictory. Yet like many of the President’s other political appointees, Pence’s habit of