Focusing on health care, House Democrats target Trump's response to COVID-19 in new ads

New ads take aim at the administration's recent comments about vaccines.

March 2, 2020, 1:03 PM

Amid heightened concerns from Democrats over the Trump administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus, House Democrats are investing in a new digital ad campaign targeting Republicans in key districts ahead of the highly-anticipated general election -- the latest move in an ongoing political fight over the outbreak.

In the ads, which will appear on Facebook in both English and Spanish, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) takes aim at Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over his recent comments about the affordability of vaccines for the virus.

“We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can't control that price, because we need the private sector to invest. The priority is to get vaccines and therapeutics. Price controls won't get us there,” Azar said during a congressional budget hearing last week.

The DCCC's efforts follow those of Democratic presidential contenders who have escalated their attacks on the Trump administration’s management of the threat, as part of their case for defeating him in November.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the press briefing room at the White House, Feb. 29, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the press briefing room at the White House, Feb. 29, 2020, in Washington, as National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, left, Vice President Mike Pence and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listen.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

"This is not a Democratic hoax," former Vice President Joe Biden said on ABC’s "This Week" on Sunday, referring to Trump saying Democrats are "politicizing" the virus and calling it "their new hoax."

“This is incompetence on the part of the president of the United States at the expense of the country and the world,” Biden added.

At a press conference at the White House, President Trump on Saturday clarified that when he invoked the word, "hoax" he was referring to his claim that Democrats are trying to "pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job. The hoax is on them, not — I’m not talking about what’s happening here; I’m talking what they’re doing. That’s the hoax."

The president's at-times uneven response to the threat has opened a window for his Democratic rivals to attack his White House over what they claim is a failure of leadership.

In a three-minute ad that ran on NBC and CBS Sunday night, Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg delivered an address on coronavirus, saying, “At times like this, it is the job of the president to reassure the public that he or she is taking all the steps necessary to protect the health and well-being of every citizen. ... Each crisis is different, but they all require steady leadership, team building and preparation.”

With House Democrats up against the challenge of defending their majority in 2020, they are turning to this issue during one of the most crucial weeks in the presidential contest, with Super Tuesday slated for March 3.

“It’s disturbing that the Trump administration is too concerned about drug manufacturers’ profits to even attempt to make an affordable vaccine for a virus that is rapidly spreading across the globe,” said DCCC Spokesperson Robyn Patterson.

PHOTO: CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
CDC’s laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

“Washington Republicans are already blocking bipartisan House-passed legislation to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. This virus is a threat to millions of Americans and House Republicans have an obligation to stand up to the White House and drug manufacturers by demanding they work to ensure a coronavirus vaccine is affordable for working families,” Patterson continued.

House Democrats are set to run the ads across seven districts targeting vulnerable Republicans as they seek to keep the focus down-ballot on protecting voters’ access to health care.

The party will take aim at newly-turned GOP Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district, Rep. Ross Spano of Florida’s 15th congressional district, Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida’s 16th Congressional district, Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler of Washington’s 3rd Congressional district, Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona’s 6th Congressional district, Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri’s 2nd Congressional district, and Rep. Don Young of Alaska’s at-large district.

Despite the local targets, the ad campaign comes as the Trump administration grapples with the rapidly-advancing global health emergency, which is affecting at least 60 countries and has caused 2,980 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There have been 87,138 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two deaths within the United States.

President Trump took aim at Democrats for “politicizing” the issue at a rally in South Carolina, where he said Democrats were creating a “new hoax.”

In an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, Azar said Trump was referring to the “partisan sniping.”

"It's unnecessary, we don't need to have this made a political issue," Azar said. "We're in a public health crisis here -- we all need to be working together."

This report was featured in the Monday, March 2, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

Editor's Note: This story has updated to clarify that President Trump has claimed he believes Democrats are creating a “new hoax” by “politicizing” his administration's response to the coronavirus.

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