Trump's acting Homeland Security chief was excoriated by a GOP senator as he stumbled over basic questions on coronavirus preparation

Kevin Lamarque/ReutersPresident Donald Trump with acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
  • Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Tuesday stumbled over questioning from GOP Sen. John Kennedy about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
  • Wolf struggled to offer Kennedy clear numbers on the expected spread of the virus, among other topics.
  • “You’re supposed to keep us safe. And the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus – and I’m not getting them from you,” Kennedy said to Wolf.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, on Tuesday morning stumbled over basic questions from GOP Sen. John Kennedy on how the Trump administration is responding to the novel coronavirus.

The Louisiana Republican excoriated Wolf as he deferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on questions on how close the US government was to developing a vaccine for the virus and how many people are predicted to become infected.

“You’re supposed to keep us safe. And the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus – and I’m not getting them from you,” Kennedy said to Wolf during the tense exchange before a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

Wolf replied, “I disagree.”

“We do anticipate the number will grow. I don’t have an exact figure for you, though,” Wolf said when asked about the expected spread of the virus in the US.

As Wolf struggled to provide a clear answer, Kennedy eventually went on to say, “Don’t you think you ought to check on that, as the head of Homeland Security?”

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday urged Americans to prepare for a coronavirus crisis in the US. The CDC said the number of cases in the US had risen to 57 as of Tuesday, according to CNN.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said during a media briefing.

Wolf, like many other Cabinet-level officials in the Trump administration, has been serving as the head of a massive government agency in an acting capacity (without Senate confirmation) for months.

The Trump administration has set up a coronavirus task force, which HHS Secretary Alex Azar and national security adviser Robert O’Brien are spearheading, to coordinate the US government’s handling of the virus.

But President Donald Trump is facing bipartisan criticism over his administration’s response to the coronavirus as it spreads out of China and into countries across the globe, including Iran and Italy. The spread has rocked financial markets.

Trump on Monday requested $US2.5 billion from Congress to address the coronavirus, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said was “long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency.”

Meanwhile, Trump has also faced criticism from congressional lawmakers over his prior decisions to scrap the global-health-security units at the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security, which Democratic lawmakers have said puts the US at a disadvantage in facing this virus.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.