Pelosi accuses Trump of costing US lives with coronavirus denials and delays

By Ed Pilkington and Victoria Bekiempis in New York

Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, delivered a devastating critique of Donald Trump on Sunday, accusing the president directly of costing American lives through his constant denials and delays in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The president’s denial at the beginning was deadly,” the House Speaker told CNN’s State of the Union. “His delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly … As the president fiddles, people are dying.”

More than 2,000 Covid-19 deaths had been confirmed in the US by Sunday morning, among about 125,000 confirmed cases, the most in any country.

Asked if she was saying Trump’s early downplaying of the severity of the coronavirus crisis had “cost American lives”, Pelosi replied: “Yes I am. I’m saying that.”

Pelosi’s piercing criticism came as the Sunday political talk shows resonated with alarming news about the scale and spread of the outbreak. Dr Anthony Fauci, Trump’s top public health adviser in the crisis, was pressed by CNN into giving his estimation of how many cases and deaths from Covid-19 there would be in the US before the disease passes.

Fauci began by saying scientists had no firm idea. But then he gave some startling projections. There would be “millions of cases” and the death toll would likely fall between 100,000 and 200,000, he said.

Fauci also underlined the “serious problem” now unfolding in New York City, which he revealed was seeing 56% of all new infections in the country.

“That’s terrible suffering for the people of New York,” Fauci said. “I feel that personally as a New Yorker.”

Pelosi’s pointed accusation that Trump’s delays and denials will increase the death toll of Americans has planted an investigative seed she indicated would be pursued once the worst of the disaster was over. She said that in time there would need to be a probe into Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

“What did he know?” she asked, echoing congressional investigators who brought down Richard Nixon. “When did he know it?”

But for now, she said, it was a question of making sure the president stopped failing to act.

“We still don’t have adequate testing,” Pelosi said, “and we still don’t have protective equipment for our health workers who are risking their own lives to save lives.”

Pelosi’s direct accusation seemed certain to inflame Trump, who was due to host a press briefing later on Sunday.

On Saturday, federal health officials issued an advisory urging New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for two weeks. But as they did so, political battle over the response to Covid-19 continued in Washington and governors’ mansions.

The travel advisory for the tri-state area came in the wake of Trump’s statements that he was mulling an “enforceable quarantine” of the region – a position which revealed the disconnect between him and New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to thwart the coronavirus outbreak.

At a media briefing, Cuomo said Trump had not apprised him of the potential quarantine on a call earlier that day. Later, the governor warned that such an order would sow “chaos and mayhem” and equate to a “federal declaration of war”.

Fauci said that on Saturday night he and other top health officials persuaded Trump that his quarantine idea was not a good idea.

“You don’t want to get to a point of enforcing things which would create a big difficulty for morale and otherwise when you could probably accomplish the same goal” voluntarily, Fauci said.

The US death count from Covid-19 includes an infant in Chicago and represents a doubling of fatalities in just two days, a grim statistic in keeping with reported US cases surpassing those in any other country. Metropolitan areas such as New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit, as well as rural regions, are braced for inevitable strain on healthcare systems, fearing outright collapse.

“If you haven’t been paying attention, maybe this is your wake-up call,” said Dr Ngozi Ezike, director of Illinois department of public health.

Dr Teena Chopra, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at Detroit Medical Center, voiced similar fears, warning of a “tsunami” of patients.

“At this time, the trajectory of Detroit is unfortunately even more steep than that of New York,” Chopra said. “This is off the charts.”

States and localities are taking different approaches to containment efforts, seemingly reflecting disparate understandings of coronavirus’s seriousness.

A minimum of 229 million US residents have been urged to stay at home, according to the New York Times. There are about 327 million people in the country, however, suggesting many are not bound by guidelines that could slow Covid-19.

Some states have engaged in finger-pointing toward other states’ residents – especially New York – and enacted policies to limit their movements.

Cuomo threatened to sue Rhode Island if officials did not refrain from their “reactionary and illegal policy” of stopping cars with New York license plates and knocking on doors seeking New Yorkers, to ensure self-quarantining. Cuomo said at his press briefing on Sunday that Rhode Island repealed its executive order, saying: “We thank them for their cooperation.”

Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has ordered highway checkpoints, saying: “There’ll probably be a diversion for folks with certain license plates.”

DeSantis also deployed Florida national guard members to airports this week, screening New York-area arrivals and ordering 14-day self-quarantines.