SCRANTON, Pa., March 5 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Thursday the U.S. economy might take a hit from the coronavirus outbreak but he predicted the challenge would eventually pass and defended his handling of the crisis.
Trump appeared at his first town hall meeting of the 2020 election season, an event conducted by Fox News Channel before an audience in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a battleground state that helped propel the Republican to the White House in 2016.
During the program, Trump weighed in on the race for the Democratic nomination to face him in the Nov. 3 election and dismissed a question as to whether his polarizing style deepens America’s political divide.
The spreading coronavirus has led to a steep downturn in the stock market and fanned fears of an economic dip just as the Republican president asks Americans for a second term.
Asked if the coronavirus outbreak hurt the economy, Trump said: “It certainly might have an impact. At the same time, I have to say people are now staying in the United States spending their money in the U.S., and I like that.”
“It’s going to all work out. Everybody has to be calm,” he said. “We have plans for every single possibility and I think that’s what we have to do. We hope it doesn’t last too long.”
Trump repeated his assertion that the travel restrictions he imposed on China early in the crisis had helped limit the outbreak in the United States. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus rose to 12 on Thursday and 53 new cases broke out across the country..
Trump has faced criticism from Democrats for not having the country properly prepared for the possibility of a pandemic.
“I think people are viewing us as having done a very good job. What we have to do is do a professional job. Nobody is blaming us for the virus,” he said. “This started in China.”
Trump’s town hall took place just days after the Democratic presidential race took a sharp turn on Super Tuesday, with former Vice President Joe Biden surging ahead of Senator Bernie Sanders in what has become a two-man battle.
“I was all set for Bernie,” Trump said, adding that Sanders would have benefited if fellow liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren had dropped out sooner. She withdrew from the race on Thursday. nL1N2AY15C
As for his divisive rhetoric, Trump defended how he conducted his personal messaging through tweeting and the like.
“When they hit us, we have to hit back. I really feel that. ... I wouldn’t be here if I had turned the other cheek,” he said. (Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Eric Beech in Washington)