Donald Trump attempted to link the coronavirus outbreak to Democratic immigration policies, labeling Democratic attacks on his handling of the crisis a “new hoax” in a rambling speech in South Carolina, the night before the state’s crucial Democratic primary.
In a packed rally in North Charleston, Trump defended his administration’s handling of the outbreak. He accused the Democrats of “politicizing the coronavirus”, calling it “their new hoax” after the Russian investigation and impeachment.
“We are doing everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering the country. We have no choice,” Trump said at the Coliseum and Performing Arts Center. “Whether it’s the virus that we’re talking about, or the many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”
Trump cited no evidence to link the virus with migration at the southern border, where he has focused much of his anti-immigration policy. The first case of coronavirus in the US with no known origin was diagnosed in northern California on Wednesday night, hundreds of miles from the border. Additional such cases in California and Oregon were confirmed on Friday.
Trump’s comments come as his administration moved to establish a point person to coordinate the country’s response to the outbreak. On Wednesday, Trump said vice-president Mike Pence would lead the administration’s response. Later, Pence said he had picked Dr Deborah L Birx, who runs the country’s efforts to fight HIV and Aids, to lead the response to the coronavirus. Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Secretary, is also taking a leading role.
The administration has faced significant criticism for its handling of coronavirus, as Democrats point to cuts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under Trump’s leadership. On Friday, the CDC said it was working to distribute new testing kits, after the first batch turned out to be faulty.
At other moments during his speech, Trump digressed to rattle off insults at the Democratic candidates running for president.
He mocked the former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.
“He wished he’d never started. He wished he’d never started. He said ‘Well, Trump can do it, I’m going to do it too.’ Was that the worst debate performance in history?” Trump said.
He attacked billionaire Tom Steyer for spending millions on his own presidential campaign.
“But this guy Steyer, he spends all this money. He spends all this money. He’s not that wealthy,” Trump said, urging the crowd to tell him which candidate would be easiest for him to beat.
Between diatribes about his possible presidential opponents, Trump bragged about the unemployment rate in South Carolina and nationally, hailing a low jobless rate among African Americans.
Trump’s re-election campaign has made outreach to black voters a key pillar of its strategy. In his speech, Trump attacked Democrats’ record on race, saying they had “betrayed African Americans”: “They forced their children into failing schools. They shipped their jobs to foreign countries. They pushed their unfair sentencing policies, you know about that … and they favoured illegal aliens over their own constituents, you know that,” Trump said.
He claimed his own administration was reversing such “failed policies”: “We’re going to compete for every single vote in 2020 and we expect to win a historic share of the black vote come election day.”