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Pence says there's been 'irresponsible rhetoric' from people downplaying the coronavirus

NBC News logo NBC News 3/12/2020 Rebecca Shabad

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WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that there has been "irresponsible rhetoric" from people who have downplayed the seriousness of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

In an interview on the "TODAY" show, Savannah Guthrie asked what message Pence sends to people who aren't afraid of the coronavirus and think it's just politics and hype, quoting from President Donald Trump on Monday that the "fake news media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything to inflame the coronavirus situation."

"Well, obviously there's been some irresponsible rhetoric," Pence said without directly naming Trump.

Pence, the head of the president's coronavirus task force, added, "The American people should know that President Trump has no higher priority than the health and safety and well-being of the people of this country."

The administration, he continued, will focus on communities that have experienced community spread of the virus and he said Trump's action a day earlier, suspending travel from Europe to the U.S., is "one more example of how he's putting the health of America first."

Trump announced in an Oval Office address Wednesday night that the U.S. will ban most foreign travelers from Europe, except the United Kingdom, for the next 30 days.

"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus," Trump told the nation in only his second Oval Office address as president.

Slideshow by photo services

The administration's travel restrictions will take effect Friday at midnight and they only apply to foreign nationals, and not U.S. citizens, green card holders or the families of U.S. citizens, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

His announcement came hours after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 1,400 points.

In the U.S., there have been more than 1,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and it has killed at least 33 people.

The president has asked Congress to pass some sort of stimulus package that includes his proposed payroll tax cut. The House is expected to vote on a bill Thursday to provide coronavirus relief measures, including free coronavirus testing, paid emergency leave for workers and food security assistance. 

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