Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) slammed acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfDemocratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children Hillicon Valley: Malicious emails spike amid coronavirus | Real ID deadline delayed one year | Trump officials to limit Huawei's chip access Travel industry hails REAL ID extension, says may need to be longer MORE on Tuesday for Wolf's lack of answers during a tense grilling on the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a subcommittee hearing on the 2021 DHS budget, Wolf failed to provide specific answers Kennedy's questions, including one on how many people are predicted to become infected with the new strain of virus.

“We’re working with HHS to determine that,” Wolf said, repeatedly deferring to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Yes, sir, but you’re head of Homeland Security and your job is to keep us safe,” Kennedy shot back, often talking over Wolf. “Don’t you think you ought to check on that?”

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Kennedy, visibly irate, appeared to get more frustrated when Wolf couldn't provide specific answers as to how many respirators and masks are available and how many would be needed for a wider outbreak. Wolf also struggled with precise mortality rate for the virus and how it compares to the flu.

“You’re the secretary, I think you ought to know that answer,” Kennedy said at one point.

Kennedy also flashed anger when Wolf told him a vaccine could be only a matter of months away, contradicting testimony from a congressional briefing earlier in the day that found it would take 12 to 18 months.

“Who’s on first here? What’s on second?” Kennedy said, referencing the classic Abbot and Costello comedy sketch on miscommunication.

“Your numbers aren’t the same as CDC’s,” he added.

The spread of coronavirus has become a significant concern to health experts, though the World Health Organization said it was not yet ready to label it a pandemic. The vast majority of cases have been confined to China, though a recent outbreak in Italy has caused fears of a more global platform for the virus. Only 50 cases have appeared in the U.S., most of which were found in Americans infected abroad who were then repatriated.

Like many members of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE’s cabinet, Wolf is serving in an acting capacity. He was designated for that position in November, a month after his predecessor Kevin McAleenan — also an acting secretary — stepped down. DHS has not had a confirmed secretary since Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security MORE left the post in April 2019.