Vice President Mike Pence will be in Washington state Thursday to meet with Gov. Jay Inslee amid rising anxiety over the coronavirus outbreak and political criticism over the Trump administration’s response.
Pence, who has been placed in charge of the federal coronavirus efforts, announced his plans in a tweet, saying, “We are here for every American and will continue to work with state and local leaders as we protect their health and well-being.”
Pence plans to fly into Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Air Force Two at about 3 p.m., according to the White House.
Several members of Washington’s congressional delegation will join Pence and Inslee, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane; Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle; Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett; Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina; and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. The meeting is at 4 p.m. at the state emergency operations center at Camp Murray.
Pence and Inslee will hold a joint news conference after 5 p.m.
Like many Democrats, Inslee has been critical of the Trump administration’s early response to the virus, which had resulted in 10 deaths in the state as of late Thursday morning.
Speaking at a Wednesday news conference at the state Department of Health building in Tumwater, Inslee said he and Pence have spoken three times about the outbreak.
That included a Feb. 27 phone call, which Inslee followed up on by slamming the White House on Twitter, saying he’d told Pence “our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.”
Inslee struck a more diplomatic note after a call Tuesday with Pence and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), praising their decision to act on his request to end federal restrictions that had limited who can be tested for coronavirus. “I appreciate the responsiveness to state requests on COVID-19,” Inslee tweeted.
At a coronavirus media briefing Tuesday, Pence said he’d had “good and productive conversations” with governors, including Inslee. “And we’re extremely grateful for the leadership the governors across the country and their health departments are providing in this instance,” he said.
The Trump administration has faced widespread criticism over its initial response to the virus outbreak and the president’s efforts to downplay its significance. At a Feb. 28 rally in South Carolina, Trump attacked Democrats for “politicizing” the outbreak, calling it “their new hoax.”
But Democrats continue to lambaste the administration over what they say have been significant lapses in preparedness and response. Members of Washington state’s congressional delegation this week grilled top federal health officials over delays in coronavirus testing and other problems.
At a hearing Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she’d heard from people “who want to get tested and believe they have been exposed — but nobody can tell them where to go.”
Murray called the federal response unacceptable, noting months of warnings of the impending crisis.
“To put it simply, if someone at the White House or in this administration is actually in charge of responding to the coronavirus, it would be news to anyone in my state,” she said.
On Thursday, Murray was the lead writer on a letter signed by 38 other Senate Democrats to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, accusing the administration of “health care sabotage,” linking problems with the coronavirus response to the administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, including its Medicaid expansion of health insurance for the poor.
Staff reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report from Olympia.