“The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president. That’s what this is all about,” Mulvaney said Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of right-wing activists that has become a rallying point for Trump’s base. “I got a note today from a reporter saying, ‘What are you going to do today to calm the markets?’ I’m like, really? What I might do today to calm the markets is tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours.”
Major media outlets have been covering the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19, since January, when a widespread outbreak began in Wuhan, China, before spreading globally.
Mulvaney, defending the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak, falsely claimed the media did not cover the White House’s “extraordinary steps four or five weeks ago” to declare a public health emergency, restrict travel to and from China, and quarantine people who recently returned from there.
“Why didn’t you hear about it? What was still going on four or five weeks ago? Impeachment, and that’s all the press wanted to talk about,” he said, claiming “the press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president.”
This week, as financial markets have nosedived, Trump has tried to downplay the seriousness of the public health risks, directly contradicting experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The president, who often personally brags when financial markets go up, has been bashing Democrats and what he calls the “fake news” media as coronavirus fears drive investors into near-panic.
On Friday, Mulvaney sought to downplay the risks and emphasize the seriousness of the outbreak at the same time.
“This is not Ebola, OK? It’s not SARS. It’s not MERS,” he said, referring to other major outbreaks in recent years.
“Is that serious?” he continued, referring to deaths from coronavirus. “It’s absolutely is, there’s no question about it. But it’s not a death sentence. It’s not the same as the Ebola crisis.”
But he raised the possibility that the outbreak would shut schools and mass transit, and then tried to reassure Americans that Trump’s administration has everything under control.
“Are you gonna see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure,” he said. “But we know how to handle this.”
Trump and his administration’s well-documented history of lying, misleading and rejecting scientific expertise have not inspired confidence. The White House has attempted to slash budgets for the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, and has proposed massive cuts to global health programs.
Trump earlier dismantled the White House pandemic response team, formed under President Barack Obama, an interagency group widely praised for its handling of the Ebola outbreak in 2014.