NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — President Donald Trump accused Democrats of “politicizing” the deadly coronavirus during a campaign rally here on Friday, claiming that the outbreak is “their new hoax” as he continued to downplay the risk in the U.S.
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” Trump said. “They have no clue, they can't even count their votes in Iowa.”
“This is their new hoax,” Trump continued, adding that attacking the White House’s response to the coronavirus had become the Democratic Party’s “single talking point.”
Trump has weaponized the word “hoax” throughout his presidency, using it to belittle and discredit former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference as well as his impeachment trial. He also has a long history of distrusting experts, most notably his own intelligence community and government scientists.
“Democrats will always say horrible things," Trump said. "Democrats want us to fail so badly.”
Trump — who has been criticized for painting an overly rosy picture of the outbreak, often contradicting his own health officials — insisted on Friday that his administration was “magnificently organized” and “totally prepared" to address the virus.
"My administration has taken the most aggressive acts in history to prevent the spread in the United States," Trump said, touting his decision to ban foreign nationals recently in China from entering the U.S.
Trump again drew a misleading comparison between the coronavirus and the seasonal flu, telling his supporters that "35,000 on average each year die from the flu, that's a lot of people."
“So far we have lost nobody to coronavirus," Trump said, suggesting the growing global panic was due to the press being in a "hysteria mode."
Experts say that the coronavirus is significantly more contagious than the flu and a vaccine is at least a year to 18 months away.
Trump faced bipartisan pressure after he requested $2.5 billion in coronavirus response funding, which lawmakers from both parties said wasn't enough. He later said that if Congress wants to grant additional funds, "I'll take it."
More than 83,000 people have been sickened by the coronavirus and at least 2,857 have died since the start of January when the virus was first discovered in China. As the virus spread rapidly across Europe and the Middle East this past week, Wall Street suffered its worst week since the financial crisis.
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Trump, who ran on a promise to build a southern border wall, used the outbreak as another opportunity to attack Democrats' position on immigration and border security.
“We must understand that border security is also health security,” Trump added, as rallygoers chanted “build the wall.” “The Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”
Trump’s rally in South Carolina comes on the eve of the Democratic primary here on Saturday, and it's the latest example of the president’s counterprogramming strategy to hold large events where Democrats are campaigning and voting, competing with them for media attention.