White House officials have privately weighed appointing a czar to oversee the administration's response to the growing novel coronavirus outbreak, despite public denials by members of the administration, sources inside the administration and advisers close to the White House say.
President Donald Trump has also privately expressed frustration with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has taken the lead on coordinating the response so far, and is blaming him for not keeping him updated enough.
Azar told members of Congress on Wednesday that he has been in constant contact with the President and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. But behind closed doors, the President has blamed Azar for not keeping him updated and allowing him to weigh in on crucial decisions.
Trump has also weighed selecting another point person as alarm about the outbreak is on the rise, though he has not followed through on it yet.
Trump is scheduled to hold a 6:30 p.m. ET news conference at the White House regarding the coronavirus.
The President has been particularly irked that he's finding out about decisions after people complain to him about them.
One notable instance was the decision to bring the Americans home from a cruise and potentially housing some patients at a FEMA facility in Alabama. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, and representatives from the state objected to the plan directly to Trump.
Lawmakers have also called on Trump to appoint someone to oversee the response, which came up during a clash over the administration's request for more coronavirus funding. Some White House officials accused HHS of requesting disproportionate amounts of money to cover up what one official described as Azar's "mismanagement."
Deputy press secretary Judd Deere denied reports about adding a czar.
"This is not true! The President took decisive action by creating the Coronavirus Virus Task Force a month ago and is pleased with the leadership of @SecAzar to protect the public health," Deere tweeted Wednesday.
After the market tumbled early this week, Trump also questioned whether Azar is up to the challenge of handling the crisis.
While testifying before Congress, Azar insisted a czar wasn't necessary despite how the Obama administration appointed Ron Klain to oversee the Ebola virus response.
"It's just the longstanding doctrine that this should be led by HHS with a public health emergency," he told lawmakers. "The oddity was actually what President Obama did with the Ebola response."
The President and other officials have also directed their anger at Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who has been a public face of the coronavirus response, for what officials claim is overly fatalistic messaging.
"We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare, in the expectation that this could be bad," she said at a news briefing this week. "It's not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen."