Democratic presidential candidates on Saturday ripped Donald Trump's claim that the coronavirus is the Democrats' "new hoax," calling the charge "dangerous" and "disturbing" — while Trump complained again they are making political hay of the outbreak.
Trump made the assertion during a rally in South Carolina Friday night, where he told the crowd Democrats have been "politicizing" the outbreak. He said he'd already endured Russia and the "impeachment hoax."
"This is their new hoax," Trump continued, before assuring rallygoers that his administration is on top of the issue.
"But you know we did something that's pretty amazing — we're 15 people in the massive country because of the fact that we went early we could have had a lot more than that. We're doing great. Our country is doing great," he said, referring to what was then the number of known cases in the United States.
Trump also touted that "so far, we have lost nobody to coronavirus in the United States. Nobody. And it doesn't mean we won't, and we are totally prepared. It doesn't mean that we won't. But think of it, you hear 35 and 40,000 people and we've lost nobody and you wonder if the press is in hysteria mode."
Shortly after his remarks, officials in California, Oregon and Washington State announced three new confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19.
At a press briefing Saturday, Trump said the number of known coronavirus cases in the U.S. is now at 22 — which doesn't include the nearly four dozen brought in from overseas — and that one victim, a man in his 50s from Washington, had died.
Asked about his "hoax" comments, Trump said he was referring Democrats' response to his handling of the problem, not the virus itself.
"I'm not talking about what's happening here. I'm talking what they're doing. That's the hoax. That's just a continuation of the hoax, whether it's the impeachment hoax or ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ hoax. This is what I'm talking about. Certainly not referring to this. How could anybody refer to this? This is very serious,” Trump said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden told MSNBC earlier Saturday that Trump's rally comments were "absolutely bizarre."
"Look, this is a serious, serious problem. It's able to be solved, but it requires us to be absolutely level-headed and let the scientists have the lead in all of this," Biden said. "But for him to start talking about it being a hoax is absolutely dangerous. It's just not a decent way to act."
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told the "Today" show Saturday that he's "very concerned" with how the administration has handled the issue to date.
"I was particularly disturbed to hear the word 'hoax' used by the president," he said. "Our lives depend on the wisdom and the judgment of the president at a time like this and what we should be seeing is not only a reliance on science and an insistence on moving politics away from this, but the kind of coordination that is uniquely the leadership role of the United States," both at home and abroad, he added.
Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, appearing at a "Women for Mike" rally in McLean, Va., said, “The president should be putting politics aside and rallying the American people behind him he continues to divide by playing partisan politics. We just can't do this.”
Bloomberg announced in a press release that if elected president, he would invite back the estimated 1,600 "scientists who were pressured to resign or let go from the federal government under President Trump."
“The coronavirus outbreak is the latest example of the damage he is doing. He has downplayed the dangers, made claims about the virus that have no basis in science, and failed to prepare for a deadly pandemic — leaving Americans deeply unsettled," Bloomberg said.
Some Republicans have said such criticism shows the Democrats are indeed politicizing the issue.
"We should be coming together to combat the coronavirus, but the left is attacking what they fear," tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R.-Tenn. "They fear we will get the job done right."
Trump has been criticized for painting an overly rosy picture of the outbreak, often contradicting his own health officials.
Democrats have pointed to his initial funding request of $2.5 billion to respond to the outbreak — much of which would have come from programs that help the poor — as well as the Centers for Disease Control's struggles in making reliable testing kits available for the public and a whistleblower report that Health and Human Services workers were sent without proper protective gear to interact with Americans who'd been evacuated from China, as potential trouble signs.
Speaking later Saturday at the annual Conservative Political Action Committee convention in Maryland, Trump again brought up the threat posed by the coronavirus.
"It's time for all Americans to put politics aside and come together to work for the health safety and security of the American people," Trump said before criticizing "Nervous Nancy" Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, and "Cryin' Chuck" Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader.
Mimicking the voice of a reporter, Trump said, "How is Donald Trump doing, Nervous Nancy? 'He's doing a terrible job.'"
"Maybe it's a natural reflex," Trump added. "Sadly I'd probably say the same about them."
He then returned to his call for unity.
"This is different. We have to be careful with this stuff," he said. "We have to make it nonpartisan if we can."