Trump Administration Officials Try To Relax Markets Around Coronavirus Fears

Feb 28, 2020
Originally published on February 28, 2020 7:45 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today the Dow ended its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. The reason - investors are worried about the spread of coronavirus around the world. The Fed has put out a statement aimed at calming markets, and the Trump administration has fanned out to try to show it has things under control. NPR's Franco Ordoñez has been hearing from some of them. He's on the line now.

Hey there, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Let's start at the top. I know the president just left the White House. What is he saying today?

ORDOÑEZ: He did just leave. He left for a rally in South Carolina. You know, we'll watch and see if he talks about this issue tonight, but he reiterated that the administration is watching this issue very closely. But he emphasized again that things were very much under control and that most of the people who have been infected in the United States are getting better. He said most. He was also asked if he was concerned about the plunge in financial markets. Here's what he said about that.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think that basically, it's the unknown, a little bit. But I feel very confident, and our people are doing a fantastic job.

KELLY: And Franco, the president was not the only member of his administration talking coronavirus today. What were you hearing from other folks at the White House?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, there was a parade of officials today who really spoke out and tried to get the word out to remain calm and keep things in perspective. Several of them actually spoke to conservative activists at the annual CPAC convention. One of them was acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who said that even if the virus spreads, the government has a plan.

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MICK MULVANEY: Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure. But we do this. We know how to handle this. And so that's one of the things that - that's the message you try and get out. There are professionals who know how to handle this. There's professionals handling it. And we're going to do the very best that we can.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, and just as the President Trump - you know, just as President Trump said the other day, you know, the administration continues to say that the risk is very low in the United States, but they're also acknowledging there could be increased spread of the disease.

KELLY: Speaking of professionals, a group of experts on the virus was briefing members of Congress. This includes Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH. What are they saying?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, right now, Congress is weighing a request for more money to help, you know, develop a vaccine and respond to the situation. But look; members are very concerned about the issue of transparency. They're worried that experts like Fauci, for example, are being stifled after the vice president took over the response this week. I should note that Fauci told them that he is not being muzzled, and the White House says there is, you know, simply an effort to coordinate messaging.

KELLY: Yeah. On that point of coordinating messaging - 'cause there's a lot of messaging going on - the White House held a briefing for reporters. Were you there? What'd you learn?

ORDOÑEZ: I was there. It was a pen-and-pad situation, so it's those kind of situations where I can't play tape of what was discussed.

KELLY: Sure.

ORDOÑEZ: But I can tell you that the focus was on funding for the response. You know, the money would be used for surveillance, state and local support, vaccines. Another issue that they're - want to spend money on is personal protective equipment.

You know, the White House does expect to get a package from Congress as early as next week and said Trump will sign it as soon as possible. At the same time, they're warning that they have money until April but not necessarily past that. And they need the money. You know, they also took questions about California, that case that may be a community spread case. And there's a lot of concern about that case.

KELLY: And just real quick, Franco, the plunge in the market that I mentioned - what is the White House saying on that?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump's top economic adviser says in a series of interviews that he's talked to reporters in the room, and he just says that there - he sees stocks rise and fall all the time.

KELLY: So they are watching. NPR's Franco Ordoñez at the White House.

Thank you, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.