During a press briefing Wednesday evening on the coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump claimed the U.S. is “totally prepared” to respond to a disease that is spreading to new countries seemingly every day.
That’s a bold assertion that will be tested immediately, and it may come back to haunt the administration. Indeed, the first significant challenge came shortly after the briefing as the Centers for Disease Control disclosed America’s first infection not tied to travel in China or another known case. If there’s one such case, there are likely to be more.
Against that backdrop, the president’s instinct to downplay the threat — even if the experts with him were more sobering — and his willingness to exchange potshots with political rivals such as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are especially troublesome. He at least acknowledged at the briefing that the risk of the virus could escalate, which is an improvement, and his decision to put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the response may make things less chaotic. But modestly improved rhetoric and a new virus czar are a pretty long way off from total preparation.