Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, delivered a devastating critique of Donald Trump on Sunday, accusing the president directly of costing American lives through his constant denials and delays in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The president’s denial at the beginning was deadly,” the House speaker told CNN’s State of the Union. “His delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly … As the president fiddles, people are dying.”
About 2,200 Covid-19 deaths had been confirmed in the US by Sunday morning, among about 125,000 confirmed cases, the most in any country.
Asked if she was saying Trump’s early downplaying of the severity of the crisis had “cost American lives”, Pelosi replied: “Yes, I am. I’m saying that.”
The Sunday political talkshows resonated with alarming news about the scale and spread of the outbreak. Dr Anthony Fauci, Trump’s top public health adviser in the crisis, was pressed by CNN into estimating the extent of Covid-19 in the US before the disease passes.
Fauci began by saying scientists had no firm idea. But then he gave some startling projections. There would be “millions of cases” and the death toll would probably fall between 100,000 and 200,000, he said.
Fauci also underlined the “serious problem” now unfolding in New York City, which he revealed was seeing 56% of all new infections in the country.
“That’s terrible suffering for the people of New York,” Fauci said. “I feel that personally as a New Yorker.”
Pelosi indicated that an investigation of Trump’s actions would be pursued once the worst of the disaster was over.
“What did he know?” she asked, echoing congressional investigators who brought down Richard Nixon. “When did he know it?”
For now, she said, it was a question of making sure the president stopped failing to act.
“We still don’t have adequate testing,” Pelosi said, “and we still don’t have protective equipment for our health workers who are risking their own lives to save lives.”
Pelosi’s accusation seemed certain to inflame Trump, who was due to host a press briefing later on Sunday. Underlining the dysfunction at the core of the federal response to the crisis, the speaker essentially confirmed that she had not spoken with Trump in five months.
Asked if that were true, Pelosi replied that the crisis “has not required any conversations with the president”.
The ties between the White House and individual state governors who are shouldering much of the burden has also descended into dysfunction. Trump has been openly scathing of several Democrats on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic, bragging on Friday that he refused even to talk to the leaders of Michigan and Washington – states very badly hit.
On Saturday, Trump also picked a fight with New York when he announced he was mulling an “enforceable quarantine” – a position which revealed the disconnect between his and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to thwart the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump backed down. But at a news briefing on Sunday, Cuomo said: “People are so on edge, it really panicked people.”
Federal health officials later issued an advisory urging New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents to refrain from non-essential domestic travel for two weeks.
Cuomo also announced an extension of the stay-at-home order for all non-essential workers until 15 April. That carries the New York lockdown beyond 12 April, Easter, on which Trump has indicated he wants to begin reopening the US economy.
There is no end in sight for New York’s woes. Cuomo announced on Sunday that the state had confirmed more than 59,000 Covid-19 cases, of whom 8,500 were currently hospitalized and some 2,000 in intensive care.
The death toll in New York City stood at 672. Statewide it was 965, up 237 on the day before.
With New York yet to reach the peak of its Covid-19 curve, other US cities are fast moving into the danger zone. In Louisiana, which has the second highest per-capita death rate in the country, Governor John Bel Edwards reiterated on Sunday his expectation that ventilators would run out in New Orleans within a week.
More than 150 people have died in the state, according to its department of public health, many in New Orleans. More than 1,100 people have been hospitalized, a third needing ventilators.
Edwards told CBS’s Face the Nation his state had received no ventilators from the national stockpile, run by the Trump administration, and had placed orders for around 12,000 with private manufacturers. It has received only 192.
“We’re doing everything that we can,” Edwards said.
Detroit, Michigan, is also hurtling towards becoming a major disaster area. By Sunday there had been more than 2,000 confirmed cases in the city and 46 deaths.
Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, told CNN Detroit was in a dire situation that was “getting worse by the minute”. Like many other governors she has been frustrated by the slow response of the federal government in providing ventilators and essential protective gear for frontline medical workers.
Trump has responded to her appeals for help by denigrating her as “the woman from Michigan” and by recounting publicly how he advised the vice-president, Mike Pence, not to talk to her. She refused to rise to the bait, saying: “I don’t have the energy to respond to every slight.”
Coronavirus continues to overshadow the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Biden appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday and cautioned against raising “false expectations” – a clear reference to Trump’s much-vaunted ambition to reopen parts of the country.
“The American people have never shied away from being able to deal with the truth,” Biden said. “The worst thing you can do is raise false expectations and then watch them get dashed – then, they begin to lose confidence in their leadership.”