Trump hits Democrats over coronavirus criticism: 'This is their new hoax'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump in new ad: 'The death toll is still rising.' 'The president is playing golf' Brazil surpasses Russia with second-highest coronavirus case count in the world Trump slams Sessions: 'You had no courage & ruined many lives' MORE on Friday hammered the news media and Democrats, accusing them of unfairly criticizing his response to the coronavirus.

Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina shortly after a new case of the disease was reported in California, spent a significant amount of time discussing his administration's handling of the virus.

He vacillated between remaining on script to project confidence in the government's ability to contain the coronavirus domestically and veering off-script to slam the news media and Democrats over the issue.

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"The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," he told the crowd in North Charleston.

"One of my people came up to me and said, 'Mr. President they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn't work out too well," Trump said. "They tried the impeachment hoax." 

"This is their new hoax," he said, apparently referring to Democrats' criticism of the official coronavirus response.

Trump, who opened the rally by declaring the "fake news just doesn't get it," accused the press of being "in hysteria mode" in its coverage of the virus.

The president's criticisms at Friday's rally reflected a broader White House effort to blame Democrats and the news media for some of the fallout of the virus.

Acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyTrump taps Brooke Rollins as acting domestic policy chief Navarro fuels tariff speculation: 'Bill has come due' for China Top Trump policy adviser Joe Grogan to leave post MORE earlier Friday claimed the press was seeking to use the virus to harm Trump, while Donald Trump Jr. claimed on Fox News that Democrats are hoping coronavirus "kills millions of people" so it ends the president's "streak of winning."

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That commentary comes a day after Vice President Pence, who is leading the administration's response efforts, urged lawmakers to put politics aside in addressing the coronavirus. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are also in the middle of bipartisan negotiations to secure supplemental funding to combat the virus.

Trump on Friday pointed to his weeks-old decision to curb travel from certain infected areas and repeatedly cited the fact that no Americans have died of the coronavirus, though new cases are being reported in the country and the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier in the day raised its risk assessment of the disease to "very high."

"We have to take it very, very seriously," he said. "We are preparing for the worst."

The president sought to assure the crowd that he was taking the matter seriously and was prepared to adapt if necessary.

"Two weeks ago, who would’ve thought this could be going on" Trump said. "But things happen in life, and you have to be prepared and you have to be flexible." 

The Trump administration has in recent days sought to project a more unified front in responding to the disease.

Trump on Wednesday tasked Pence with leading the government response, and the vice president in turn named career health official and State Department appointee Deborah Birx to coordinate the White House response.