House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fired back at President Trump on Thursday after he called her "incompetent," urging bipartisanship before calling his administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak "opaque and often chaotic."
"Lives are at stake," Pelosi said during her weekly press conference. "This is not a time for name-calling or playing politics."
The California Democrat said she and her fellow Democrats are working with Republicans to reach agreement on emergency funding to combat the spread of the deadly virus, which countries are racing to contain.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for $8.5 billion in emergency funding Wednesday, while the White House outlined a $2.5 billion plan Monday that includes $1.25 billion in new funds. Mr. Trump, however, told reporters at the White House on Wednesday his administration would spend "whatever's appropriate" to adequately fight the coronavirus outbreak.
Any emergency funding package approved by Congress must include entirely new money, Pelosi said, and include provisions that prohibit the president from using the funds for anything other than the coronavirus and fighting infectious diseases. She also emphasized the need to ensure any vaccine developed to treat the deadly virus is affordable and widely available, a dig at Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar who testified Wednesday that while "we would want to ensure that we'd work to make it affordable, but we can't control that price because we need the private sector to invest."
"Really?" Pelosi said. "This would be a vaccine that is developed with taxpayer dollars to again prevent. And we think that should be available to everyone, not dependent on big pharma. I guess yesterday when the secretary made that ill-advised statement he was wearing his pharma hat, which he wore before he came here."
Azar was a top executive at the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly before joining the Trump administration.
As the Trump administration works to fight the coronavirus outbreak, the president announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the federal government's response. The move brought fresh scrutiny to Pence's record as governor of Indiana, during which the state grappled with the largest HIV outbreak in its history.
Pelosi said she spoke with Pence by phone Thursday morning and raised her own issues with his selection to head up the administration's efforts.
"I expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position —while I look forward to working with him — about his when he was governor of Indiana slashing the public health budget and having some clinics, especially a Planned Parenthood clinic, close which was the only place in that county where you could get tested for HIV and AIDS."
Pence addressed the coronavirus outbreak at the start of a speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Thursday morning and emphasized the president "has no higher priority than the health, safety and well being of the American people."
"It's important to remember we're all in this together," he said. "This is not the time for partisanship. The American people expect us to work together, and I promise you, this president and this administration is going to work with leaders in both parties."
Pelosi's call for civility among Republicans and Democrats as they seek to respond to the deadly virus came after the president called her "incompetent" and claimed she was deliberately "trying to create a panic."
But the California Democrat did not hold back in her criticism of the Trump administration, which she said "mounted an opaque and often chaotic response to this outbreak."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy echoed Pelosi's request for bipartisanship.
"What is certain here is that this is no time for politics," he said during a press conference Thursday. "Diseases don't know party lines, and I would imagine members of Congress would drop the partisanship to coordinate efforts on keeping our country safe."
But McCarthy, a Republican from California, went on to accuse Democrats of putting "politics over the country" and claimed Pelosi and Senator Bernie Sanders have attacked Pence's religion and are spreading misinformation about a possible coronavirus vaccine.
"To my colleagues on the other side attempting to seize this as a political moment, I simply say stop it. Stop it on behalf of the American public," he said, adding that "this is who they are. They would rather attack the president's response to a crisis than work together to solve an epidemic."
More than 80,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, and the death toll sits at more than 2,700. A handful of people have been diagnosed with the deadly virus in the United States. Mr. Trump attempted to downplay warnings that the spread in the U.S. is inevitable, as the Centers for Disease Control has said, instead telling reporters the risk to Americans is "very low."