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Senators of both parties dissatisfied with Trump administration's coronavirus response

Doctor on U.S.'s lack of coronavirus data
Doctor on U.S.'s lack of coronavirus data 02:12

Washington — Senators of both parties expressed frustration on Capitol Hill after top Trump administration officials briefed them Thursday morning about their efforts to diagnose and contain the spread of the coronavirus

"We couldn't get a good, clear answer on when we are going to get commercial testing out there, labs that can get faster responses," Oklahoma Senator Jim Lankford, a Republican, told reporters after the briefing. He said that the briefers, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Stephen Redd of the Centers for Disease Control, said it would be two weeks "before we can get widespread testing."

Lankford also said that the president's claim that anyone who wants a test for the virus can get it is incorrect.

"That's obviously the goal," he said, but that claim is "not accurate right now." 

President Trump said late last week that "anybody that needs a test gets a test. They're there. They have the tests, and the tests are beautiful." Lankford said the administration shouldn't claim that testing is universally available.

"People should not say, 'If you want a test you can get a test right now,'" Lankford said. "That's not here at this point. We're still a couple of weeks from that."

"We've got a long way to be able to go to get rapid, efficient testing," he continued. "People just want to know, 'Do I have it? Do I not have it?' And that, people can't do yet."

Several senators came away from the briefing with the sense that the administration's response has so far been slow and inadequate.  

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that, in the room, lawmakers were "frustrated because of the inability —we all want a date." 

Virus Outbreak Washington
Senator Marco Rubio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, March, 12, 2020, as he arrives for a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak. Carolyn Kaster / AP

"We all want to be told [that] by Friday, there will be 10 million tests available. The problem is, they can't tell us that, because it's not just developing tests, it's, 'Do we have enough cotton swabs in our stockpiles? Do we have enough protective material for the lab technicians to conduct the tests?'"

"When you can't give people certainty that they can then go back and express to their constituents, it begins to frustrate people," Rubio said.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican, said "our system has just not been up to snuff, and I think a lot of people are frustrated by it." 

"I'm one of them," he added.

Romney said he was concerned that "we don't have the level of testing that you're seeing in other countries like South Korea, and we wonder why they have several thousand people a day getting tested, and we have, you know, a handful."

Romney said that the explanation offered by administration officials was "not satisfactory." 

"The point was made that we have a system that relies upon the private sector, that there have been difficulties getting certain reagents to provide the tests, that we expect the private sector to pick up and get these tests out but, of course, expectations and reality have not met," Romney continued.

"People are also frustrated they can't find masks, they can't find sanitary wipes for their countertops, they can't find alcohol in the stores for cleansing and for making sure that they don't get sick," Romney told reporters.

Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal weighed in on the concerns he has about his home state, where three people have so far been diagnosed with coronavirus.

"In the state of Connecticut, fewer than 100 people have been tested," Blumenthal said. "We have no grasp right now about the extent of the problem in the state of Connecticut. That comes not from me, but from public health experts. That's the language that they are using." The state's website says that in addition to the three who have tested positive, 71 have tested negative.

"We had a briefing from the vice president 10 days ago, and a million tests were promised by the end of last week. They're nowhere to be found," Blumenthal said. 

Asked about the European travel ban announced by Mr. Trump Wednesday, Blumenthal said, "Nobody consulted or informed us before the president's announcement."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cancelled the spring recess that was supposed to have started next week, so that Congress can work on legislation to fight the coronavirus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been talking throughout the day about a bipartisan measure. 

Alan He contributed to this report.

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