President Trump on Wednesday tapped Vice President Pence to lead the government response to the coronavirus.
"I'm going to be putting our vice president, Mike Pence, in charge. And Mike will be working with the professionals," Trump said during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room.
"Mike is going to be in charge, and Mike will report back to me," he added. "But he's got a certain talent for this."
Trump's comments in the briefing room and his decision to make Pence the point person represented an effort to bolster public confidence about his administration’s response to the virus, which has spread quickly across the globe.
Pence's measured accounting of how the government would seek to ensure the disease does not spread to the U.S. was in stark contrast to the president's own approach to the virus.
Moments before announcing Pence would lead the government response, Trump expressed amazement at statistics that showed influenza kills thousands of people each year.
Pence assured the president he would keep him apprised of the latest developments. He also cited the importance of keeping local leaders informed, recounting that he was serving as governor of Indiana when the first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome was reported in 2014.
"I know full well the importance of presidential leadership, the importance of administration leadership, and the vital role of partnerships of state and local governments and health authorities in responding to the potential threat of dangerous infectious diseases," he said.
The administration has come under vigorous criticism from members of both parties over its initial response.
On Tuesday, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned the virus would inevitably spread in the United States, even as one top Trump economic adviser said it was contained in the U.S., describing it as "airtight."
“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” Trump said Wednesday, separating himself from the CDC official’s remarks. “Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.”
Trump insisted that the safety of the American people was his “number one priority” and that the risk remained low.
“Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” the president said.
There are currently 15 cases of coronavirus detected among individuals inside the United States; 40 American passengers brought back from a cruise ship in Japan also tested positive for the virus. CDC official Dr. Nancy Messonnier told reporters Tuesday that the spread of the virus inside the U.S. was believed to be inevitable.
The administration has proposed $2.5 billion in additional funding to address the coronavirus, a number lawmakers in both parties have called insufficient.
The president told reporters on Wednesday night that he would be willing to accept more than that if Congress approves it.
'We're ready to adapt, and we're ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads," he said.