White House readies emergency coronavirus funding
WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House is readying an urgent budget request to address the deadly coronavirus outbreak, whose rapid spread is spooking financial markets and restricting international travel.
The request is still being developed but is likely to come this week, a senior administration official confirmed Monday. The Department of Health and Human Services has already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and is seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.
"We need some funding here to make sure that we protect all Americans," Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said on Fox News. "We need to combat this, we need to make sure our people are safe and the president is always going to take action to do that."
Senators returning to Washington after a weeklong recess will receive a classified briefing Tuesday morning on the government's coronavirus response, a Senate aide said.
"All of the warning lights are flashing bright red. We are staring down a potential pandemic and the administration has no plan," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We have a crisis of coronavirus and President Trump has no plan, no urgency, no understanding of the facts or how to coordinate a response."
Trump was a vocal critic of former President Barack Obama's response to the 2014 Ebola scare, which barely touched the U.S. but was seen as a factor in that year's midterm elections, which restored control of the Senate to Republicans.
Among the needs is funding to reimburse the Pentagon, which is housing evacuees from China — who are required to undergo 14-day quarantines — at several military bases in California.
Democrats controlling the House wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request funds to help speed development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity, and beef up screening efforts at U.S. entry points. Azar is slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic.
The White House budget office, led by Russell Vought, is working with HHS to shape the request, with the agency seeking more than the White House is likely to approve. There is a receptive audience for the request on Capitol Hill, though stand-alone emergency spending bills can be tricky to pass since they are invariably a target for lawmakers seeking add-ons.
The stock market dove Monday over coronavirus fears, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping by 3.6% — or more than 1,000 points.
The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and caseloads are rapidly increasing in countries such as South Korea, Iran, and Italy.
In San Francisco, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a walking tour of Chinatown on Monday to let the public know the neighborhood is safe and open for business.
Pelosi, a Democrat who represents the heavily Chinese American city, visited the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, whose owner Kevin Chan, says his business and others are down 70% since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
"Come to Chinatown," Pelosi said. "Precautions have been taken by our city, we know that there's concern about tourism, traveling all throughout the world, but we think it's very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come."
Asked about the Trump administration's looming request, Pelosi said she would want to know how the money would be used.
The administration official required anonymity to discuss the request because it is not yet public.