GOP Senator Torches Acting DHS Secretary on Coronavirus Preparedness

Posted: Feb 25, 2020 6:00 PM
GOP Senator Torches Acting DHS Secretary on Coronavirus Preparedness

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Tensions ran high during a Tuesday afternoon Senate subcommittee hearing in which acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was put to task by Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana on government preparation for a possible Coronavirus epidemic. 

During a hearing meant for discussion of the 2021 DHS budget, Kennedy, at times fuming with anger, demanded that Wolf provide more concrete answers about the deadly and mysterious virus, which has swept through southeast Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe, threatening to make a significant impact in the US. 

The Center for Disease Control characterized the threat of Coronavirus on Tuesday as having “raised our level of concern,” and told Americans to “prepare for disruption.” Nearly 3,000 people have died from the disease with more than 80,000 cases reported globally. 

Kennedy pushed hard on Wolf about what America should expect as more cases of the virus are reported on a Daily basis. The acting DHS Secretary avoided giving concrete answers and stated only that they were working to determine the extent to which Americans should expect viral spread. As of Monday, 14 cases of the Coronavirus have been reported in the United States with several dozen more infected persons repatriated into the country from various international cruise ships.

Wolf attempted to defer to the Department of Health and Human Services for further answers, suggesting that he had been in touch with them to chart the best course of action in the prevention of disease spread. 

“You can’t tell us how many your models are anticipating?” Don’t you think you ought to check on that?” Kennedy retorted sharply. “I’m all for committees and task forces, but you’re the Secretary. I think you ought to know that answer.”

Kennedy then demanded specifics on how the disease was transmitted from person to person and what people should avoid. A clearly rattled Wolf said only that the disease was believed to transmit from person to person, but initially declined to be more specific. 

Details of the nature of the Coronavirus, which is largely thought to have originated in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province in China, have been contested as initial reports of the novel virus greatly contradicted each other. The President has repeatedly sent out reassuring messages that the virus is under control and Americans had no reason to be afraid of a pandemic. 

Critics of the president felt that his request for $2.5 billion in response to the virus was low. Only $1.25 billion of the total amount would constitute new spending with the balance coming from other HHS programs and more than $500 million being money earmarked for Ebola preparedness, a signature issue on the Democrats' 2020 budget menu. Minority Senate Leader Chuck Schumer of New York slammed Trump for having "no plan" to fight Coronavirus.

Despite Democratic criticism, however, Trump remained steadfast that the virus would not rattle the US. From India on Monday, the president tweeted, "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!"