Pete Buttigieg Calls For Coronavirus Response 'Based On Science,' Not Politics After Trump Says Democrats Are Politicizing Outbreak

Pete Buttigieg
Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg Win McNamee/Getty Images

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said he was "disturbed" Saturday by President Donald Trump's use of the word hoax surrounding the coronavirus epidemic and called for a reliance on science to fight the disease.

"It's critically important that the administration and the White House handle this in a way that's based on science and not based on politics," the former mayor said on NBC's Today. "I was particularly disturbed to hear the word hoax used by the president recently in talking about this issue."

"Our lives depend on the wisdom and the judgment of the president at a time like this. What we should be seeing is not only a reliance on science and an insistence on moving politics away from this, but the kind of coordination that is uniquely the leadership role of the White House," Buttigieg said.

The former mayor's comments are in response to the president's remarks at his South Carolina rally Friday. Trump referred to the Democratic response to his administration's actions to stifle the coronavirus pandemic as the party's "new hoax."

"The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," Trump said at his rally. "One of my people came up to me and said, 'Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia. That didn't work out too well. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They've been doing it since you got in. And this is their new hoax.'"

Trump cited Democrats' criticism of the travel restrictions placed on China which are aimed at slowing down the spread of COVID-19.

Trump also received criticism after requesting $2.5 billion from Congress to combat the disease, an amount some Democrats felt was low. Senator Chuck Schumer requested $8.5 billion from Congress to fund the government's coronavirus response. Trump has since said that if Democrats offer more money, he would gladly take it.

Trump also mentioned that the U.S. "could have had a lot more" confirmed cases COVID-19 had it not been for his administration's early response to the pandemic. According to the World Health Organization's latest report, released Friday morning, there have so far been 62 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., 42 of which were from people repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined outside Japan.

However, on Friday evening, the Centers for Disease Control reported two additional cases of the virus, one in Oregon and one in Washington. How those individuals contracted the disease is unknown.

Buttigieg told Today he was "very concerned" about the "huge impact" the coronavirus would have on lives and the economy in the U.S., adding that the United States should be "coordinating the private and public sector to make sure that screening, treatment, and eventually a vaccine become available."

Newsweek reached out to Buttigieg and the White House for further comments but has yet to receive a response.

The presidential candidate also said the government should be coordinating internationally because "this virus doesn't care what country it's in."

"[The coronavirus] doesn't respect borders, it's not going be stopped by a wall. This is one of those moments where those international relationships are so important. Unfortunately, those relationships have been compromised," he said.

The conversation then shifted to the Democratic presidential race. When asked if he believed former Vice President Joe Biden would be best positioned to win the nomination if he won the South Carolina primary, Buttigieg replied, "No, I believe that we are positioned to become the nominee."

"We're expecting a competitive finish here in South Carolina," he added.

Buttigieg was also asked if his remaining in the race attributes to dividing the moderate vote and helps Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign. He answered that while he respects Sanders and his ideals, Democrats should be looking for "change that gather together rather than polarize" to beat Trump. On dividing the moderate vote, he said he has the most votes and delegates besides Sanders, adding, "Why would you step aside in a race to accommodate people who are behind you?"

"We should probably consolidate around an alternative. Most democrats are looking for somebody else and ours is the leading campaign for those looking for that alternative," Buttigieg said.