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President Trump, at CDC, offers scattershot defense of virus response

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday turned into a scattershot defense of his administration’s handling of the growing coronavirus crisis, veering into political digs and detours.

President Trump tried once more to quell growing alarm about the spread of the virus in America. But he quickly ventured into side matters and political squabbles.

President Trump called Washington state’s governor a “snake.” He said he’d prefer that people exposed to the virus on a cruise ship be left aboard so they wouldn’t be added to the count for the nation’s total number of infections.

The president touted the accuracy of the test to detect the coronavirus, which members of his administration have acknowledged is not available to all who wants it, declaring it was “perfect like the letter was perfect. The transcription was perfect. This was not as perfect as that, but pretty good.”

President Trump was referring to the rough transcript of his July call with Ukraine’s president, which prompted a whistleblower complaint that led to his impeachment. President Trump, who was acquitted by the Senate last month, has insisted he did nothing wrong.

President Trump said his trip to the CDC had been canceled earlier over concern about a possible infection there, but that person tested negative. The visit was rescheduled for Friday afternoon.

“Be calm. It will go away,” President Trump told reporters earlier at the White House after signing a $8.3 billion coronavirus response funding bill at the White House.

“We have very low numbers compared to major countries throughout the world. Our numbers are lower than just about anybody,” President Trump said about cases of the virus, which have rocked financial markets, interrupted travel and threaten to affect everyday life in the United States.

But his messaging was more haphazard at the Atlanta-based CDC. Despite calling this week for bipartisanship during the crisis, he said he told Vice President Mike Pence not to be complimentary during his Thursday meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, where more than a dozen people have died, because “he is a snake.”

“Let me just tell you we have a lot of problems with the governor and, that’s where you have many of your problems, OK?” President Trump said. “So Mike may be happy with him but I’m not, OK?”

So far, 14 people have died in the United States. President Trump downplayed concern that the country was not ready to respond to an outbreak.

President Trump also said he talked on the phone with California Gov. Gavin Newsom about the 3,500 people stuck on a cruise ship anchored off the coast of California. President Trump, at the CDC, advocated for the passengers to remain on the ship — in part so they would not count against the total number of victims in the United States. He did say he would defer to the medical experts.

The legislation President Trump signed at the White House provides federal public health agencies with money for vaccines, tests and potential treatments and helps state and local governments prepare and respond to the threat.

“It’s an unforeseen problem,” President Trump said about the virus. “It came out of nowhere. We’re taking care of it.”

The Senate passed the $8.3 billion measure Thursday to help tackle the outbreak in hopes of reassuring a fearful public and accelerating the government’s response to the virus. The money will pay for a multifaceted attack on a virus that is spreading more widely every day, sending financial markets spiraling again Thursday, disrupting travel and potentially threatening the U.S. economy’s decade-long expansion.

The plan would more than triple the $2.5 billion amount outlined by the White House 10 days ago. The Trump proposal was immediately discarded by members of Congress from both parties. Instead, the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations committees negotiated the increased figure and other provisions of the legislation in a burst of bipartisan cooperation that’s common on the panel but increasingly rare elsewhere in Washington.

The president, while touring the CDC, also boasted about his ability to understand the virus, even though he has repeatedly misstated how long it would take for a vaccine to be developed and available.

“You know my Uncle was a great — he was at MIT. He taught at MIT for a record number of years. He was a great super genius, Dr. John Trump,” the president said. “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. … Maybe I have a natural ability.”

President Trump visited the CDC after touring tornado damage in Tennessee. He was to spend the weekend at his resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

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