Democratic White House hopefuls are seizing on US President Donald Trump’s delayed response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Former vice president Joe Biden, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar all criticised Mr Trump during town hall events broadcast on cable news channel CNN on Wednesday night.
A number of the candidates have released their own pandemic policies, and Mr Bloomberg is even airing an advert contrasting Mr Trump’s response to the outbreak to his own handling of the aftermath of September 11.
Ms Warren, Ms Klobuchar and Mr Bloomberg have all released public health plans detailing how they would address and prevent similar outbreaks as president.
During their CNN town halls, Ms Warren warned that the economic impact of the strain of coronavirus – also known as Covid-19 – could get worse. She and Ms Klobuchar slammed Mr Trump’s decision to put vice president Mike Pence in charge of the response, noting his controversial handling of an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was governor.
Mr Biden has previously slammed Mr Trump for “hysterical xenophobia and fearmongering” rather than respecting science on the issue.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, another 2020 Democratic hopeful, issued a statement calling for Mr Trump to allow her state, Hawaii, to buy Covid-19 testing kits from Japan. She said the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was “failing to provide them”.
“As an island state, with responsible leadership, we can keep this virus out. But, we won’t be able to do that without our state and federal leaders taking it much more seriously than they are right now,” she said.
But sounding the alarm on the administration’s coronavirus response also holds risks. Florida representative Donna Shalala, who served as secretary of health and human services under former president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, had a stark warning for Democrats.
She said: “Don’t open your mouth until you know what you’re talking about. This is politics. They need to listen to the scientists as well.”
That is a major criticism Democrats have lobbed at Mr Trump – that he has botched his response and fostered more confusion by publicly contradicting the scientists in his administration about the severity of the virus.
On Wednesday, the Republican president sought to minimise fears at a White House press conference in which he insisted the US is “very, very ready” for an outbreak and predicted: “This will end… there’s no reason to be panicked.”
But standing next to him, the health officials in charge of handling the outbreak predicted more cases coming into the US.