Fresh off a weekend during which he bragged about the television ratings of his daily coronavirus briefings, United States President Donald Trump on Monday returned to attack mode and railed against anyone suggesting his administration has dragged its feet in response to the crisis.
In a nearly hour-long interview on his favourite morning television show, Fox & Friends on Fox News Channel, the president reserved his harshest criticism for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to whom he referred as a "sick puppy" after she criticised the president over the weekend.
In an interview on CNN on Sunday, Pelosi said the administration's early hesitance to address the virus head-on is having "deadly" consequences across the country.
"His denial at the beginning was deadly," Pelosi said.
"His delaying of getting equipment ... to where it is needed is deadly," she added. "As the president fiddles, people are dying".
On Monday, Trump angrily pushed back at Pelosi, calling her comments "a horrible statement to make".
"She's a sick puppy in my opinion," he added. "There's something wrong with the woman."
Trump accused the top Democrat of being "controlled by the radical left" because she led the impeachment efforts against him in late 2019 and early 2020. He then inexplicably threatened a federal takeover of Pelosi's home district in San Francisco, California.
"The federal government, we may get involved and take over that area and clean it up," Trump said, without saying how exactly he would do that. "It's such a mess, it's so bad, and yet she will sit there and complain. All she did was focus on impeachment. She didn't focus on anything having to do with pandemics. She focused on impeachment and she lost. And she looked like a fool."
The escalating attacks are seen as evidence that Trump is beginning to view the pandemic and its economic consequences as a political problem that could potentially linger well into the campaign season for the November general election. The president's approval ratings have inched up in recent days to their highest point so far in his presidency, but those of others - including state governors - have increased far more dramatically.
Three polls released over the weekend show the president trailing his presumed Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, in a head-to-head race in November, but just barely in some cases. The polls suggest that Trump is getting high marks in some circles for his handling of the crisis at the moment, but that the support may be fleeting and not translate into votes to re-elect him in November.
The recent polling in the US mirrors what is happening in other parts of the world affected by the outbreak, though by much smaller margins in Trump's case, suggesting that people are rallying around their leaders in a time of crisis. In France, President Emmanuel Macron's approval is up 13 percent and in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently in quarantine, has seen his job approval nearly double in his favour. Even in Italy, among the hardest-hit countries, the government's approval rating has soared from net negative to over 70 percent approval.
Over the weekend, Trump filled his Twitter feed with criticism of the media's coverage of the crisis, plaudits for the federal response so far, and boasts about the viewership numbers for his daily briefings about the coronavirus from the White House.
In Monday's interview, Trump claimed that media reports about state and local leaders being unhappy with the federal response - voiced by both Republican and Democratic leaders in recent days in multiple television interviews - were not true. He also took credit for the accolades being heaped on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for his handling of the pandemic in hard-hit New York City.
"One of the reasons his numbers are high on handling it is because of the federal government," Trump told Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy. " Because we give him ships, and we give him ventilators, and we give him all of the things that we're giving him, Steve. We're giving him four hospitals and four medical centres and all of the things that we've done.
"One of the reasons he's successful is because we've helped make him successful," Trump added.
For his part, Cuomo, appearing on MSNBC Monday morning, pleaded with the president not to politicise the crisis, and warned that cities across the nation will soon be seeing the surge in cases that have plagued New York City, currently the epicentre of the world outbreak.
"My plea is, and pardon me if I'm a little emotional, but I'm living with this 24 hours a day and seeing people die all around me," Cuomo said. "The science people, the government professionals have to stand up and look the president in the eye and say, this is not a political exercise. This is not press relations. It's not optics. The tsunami is coming. We know it is."