White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney suggested Friday that Americans ignore the media's coverage of the coronavirus, arguing that journalists are ratcheting up fears to try to hurt President Donald Trump politically.
Mulvaney, who also heads the Office of Management and Budget, also said that there will "probably" be school closures and transportation issues due to the impact of the virus.
"Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure," Mulvaney said as he attempted to assure his audience that the Trump administration was on top of the virus.
He was interviewed Friday morning by Stephen Moore, Trump's onetime nominee for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
Mulvaney claimed that the media has only started paying close attention to the coronavirus because "they think this is going to be what brings down the president."
The Office of Management and Budget referred CNBC's request for comment on Mulvaney's remarks to the White House, which did not immediately provide a response.
The Trump administration imposed travel restrictions and quarantines in late January in response to the outbreak, which has spread to dozens of countries around the world and killed more than 2,700 people.
"Why didn't you hear about it?" Mulvaney asked at CPAC. "What was still going on four or five weeks ago? Impeachment, and that's all the press wanted to talk about."
The House impeached Trump in December on articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, both related to his dealings with Ukraine. The Senate acquitted Trump of both charges in early February.
"The press was covering their hoax of the day because they thought it would bring down the president," Mulvaney concluded. "The reason you're seeing so much attention to [the coronavirus] today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president. That's what this is all about."
Mulvaney said he was asked by a reporter, "What are you going to do today to calm the markets?"
"I'm like, 'Really what I might do today [to] calm the markets is tell people turn their televisions off for 24 hours.'"
Still, the disease is "absolutely" real, Mulvaney said. But, he said, "You saw the president the other day — the flu is real."
"This is not Ebola ... it's not SARS, it's not MERS," Mulvaney said.
"We sit there and watch the markets and there's this huge panic and it's like, why isn't there this huge panic every single year over flu?" Mulvaney asked rhetorically.
"Are you going to see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure."
"But we do this, we know how to handle this," he said.
White House officials, along with Trump himself, have unsuccessfully called for calm amid the market's free-fall this week.
At a news conference Wednesday night, Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would be in charge of the U.S. response to the coronavirus. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, however, said he remains the chair of the coronavirus task force, and that Pence will be "helping" with the effort.
Trump also claimed without providing evidence that financial markets may be tanking because they are "very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves."
Seven Democratic presidential candidates met in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday night for an often messy and chaotic debate, just days before the state's primary.
Trump said investors say, "'If we ever have a president like this' ... When they look at the statements made by the people standing behind those podiums, I think that has a huge effect, yeah."