Pence office to handle media on coronavirus

Greg Nash

Vice President Pence’s office is being given authority over media response and messaging on the coronavirus after he was tasked with overseeing the federal response to the disease, a person familiar with the arrangement confirmed Thursday.

The person said media requests related to the virus will be filtered through Pence’s office rather than the White House press shop in an effort to further centralize the administration’s response.

The shift in approach was first reported by The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The Times additionally reported that Anthony Fauci, a public health expert and leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had been told not to make public statements without first clearing it with the White House.

President Trump on Wednesday said Pence would oversee the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus. Pence on Thursday named career health official and Obama-era State Department appointee Deborah Birx to coordinate the White House response.

Birx’s appointment appeared to be aimed at appeasing critics who took issue with Pence’s lack of public health expertise. She will serve on the White House coronavirus task force and report to Pence, who will report to the president.

Efforts to give Pence more latitude over how the administration publicly addresses the coronavirus comes after days of criticism from Democrats over whether the Trump administration was adequately prepared to handle a potential health crisis.

The president has repeatedly complained about media coverage of the coronavirus being too alarmist, blaming it for a drop in the stock market spurred by fears over the spread of the virus. On Wednesday, Trump repeatedly said he did not think it was “inevitable” there would be an outbreak in the U.S., one day after a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated it was a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Larry Kudlow, a top economic adviser to the president, also caused a stir earlier this week when he described the containment of the disease within the U.S. as “airtight.”

Fifteen people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the U.S. thus far, and 42 others with the virus were repatriated from a cruise ship.

Tags Coronavirus Donald Trump Larry Kudlow Mike Pence

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