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White House takes aggressive public posture amid new coronavirus spread

ABC News logo ABC News 3/2/2020
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump speaks to the press during a meeting with President of the Republic of Colombia Ivan Duque Marquez in the Oval Office, March 2, 2020. © Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images President Donald Trump speaks to the press during a meeting with President of the Republic of Colombia Ivan Duque Marquez in the Oval Office, March 2, 2020.

The White House on Monday continued to project an image that's it's on the offensive in how it's handling the new coronavirus , with President Donald Trump set to sit down with pharmaceutical CEOs to discuss efforts to develop a vaccine.

“We've asked them to accelerate whatever they're doing in terms of the vaccine, absolutely,” Trump said of drug-making company executives during an Oval Office photo op. He was previously scheduled to meet with them Monday on the topic of drug pricing, though the top agenda item in the meeting has since developed to focus on the virus.

Even as President Trump in recent days has hyped the possibility of the vaccine being developed “very rapidly,” top government health officials have cautioned that the accelerated process still puts vaccine development a year to a year and half out.

“So, although this is the fastest we have ever gone from a sequence of a virus to a trial, it still would not be any applicable to the epidemic unless we really wait about a year to a year and a half,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, said last Wednesday as he stood alongside the president at a White House briefing on the virus.

Slideshow by photo services

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In addition to the president’s meeting with pharmaceutical companies, he is set to have lunch with Vice President Pence, whom he tasked last week with leading the administration’s response to the spreading virus.

In addition to coordinating the all-of-government approach to responding to the virus crisis, Pence is set to meet with airline and cruise ship CEOs later in the week.

He also will brief reporters Monday evening, alongside the newly-appointed White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is expected to regularly brief reporters on the administration’s efforts in the weeks ahead.

While there have been growing concerns in recent days about the risks posed by large gatherings in hastening the potential spread of the virus, President Trump was asked Monday whether he thinks it’s safe to be holding major campaign rallies, like the one he has scheduled for Monday night in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I think it's very safe. I think it's very safe,” Trump said.

MORE: Authorities report 2nd coronavirus death in U.S.

“These were set up a long time ago,” he said of his own rallies and pointed out that Democrats are doing the same. “They’re all having rallies."

Even as the White House seeks to demonstrate a proactive all-of-government approach to tackling the virus, the president has simultaneously sought to downplay the virus, advising people through Twitter to “Be calm & vigilant!” and has sought to deflect any criticism of his administration’s response as a “hoax.”

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