Democrat gets in heated exchange with Pompeo at hearing: 'Do you believe coronavirus is a hoax?'

A House hearing on Friday that was meant to address the U.S. strategy in Iran blew up into a heated confrontation over the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus.

The purpose of Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoNoem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions MORE's appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee was to discuss the early January drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and escalated tensions with the country. But the hearing quickly turned into a debate over the deadly virus, which has spread globally.

In one of the more heated moments, Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuPost-Trump, Biden seeks to restore US relations with Holy See California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup MORE (D-Calif.) confronted Pompeo, asking him if he believes "the coronavirus is a hoax." He pointed to White House acting chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE's comments earlier in the day claiming news media were ignoring the coronavirus until now because outlets were too focused on President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE's impeachment before that, which he called a "hoax."

ADVERTISEMENT

"Donald Trump's chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC] that the coronavirus was the hoax of the day," Lieu said. "Do you agree with Donald Trump's chief of staff Mulvaney that the coronavirus is the hoax of the day?"

"The State Department is doing everything it can to protect American citizens around the world," Pompeo began replying before Lieu interrupted.

"Do you believe coronavirus is a hoax?" Lieu said.

"I'm not going to comment on what others are saying," Pompeo replied. "I'm just telling you what the secretary of State is doing."

"It's not even a gotcha question," Lieu continued. "Do you believe the coronavirus is a hoax?"

"It is a gotcha moment," Pompeo said. "It's not useful."

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked again, Pompeo said: "We're taking it seriously."

Lieu went on to call it "shameful" that Pompeo wouldn't say coronavirus is not a hoax, while scolding Pompeo for attending CPAC later in the day.

After the hearing, he shared the exchange on Twitter, accusing Pompeo of "being too scared to even say [the coronavirus] is not a hoax."

Democrats have been hammering the Trump administration in recent days over its plans to address the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled on Friday as being a high-level threat.

China has reported nearly 79,000 total cases of the virus to WHO, including 2,791 deaths. Outside China, the WHO said there are now 4,351 cases in 49 countries, and 67 deaths.

Trump announced this week that Vice President Pence would lead efforts to address the coronavirus, and has hit back against Democrats' criticism, saying he has prevented the spread by ending certain flights.

ADVERTISEMENT

Friday's hearing almost immediately turned to the coronavirus, when Rep. David CicillineDavid CicillineLobbying world Progressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East MORE (D-R.I.) used the first question of the hearing to ask about it.

Pompeo responded, “Just so you know, we agreed that I would come here to talk about Iran. The first question today is not about Iran.”