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Roe asking officials to evacuate Americans from quarantined cruise ship

David Floyd • Updated Feb 14, 2020 at 10:18 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, is urging officials to evacuate American citizens from a quarantined cruise ship where more than 200 people have tested positive for COVID-19, a new coronavirus first identified in China.

According to The Associated Press, the Diamond Princess, a U.S.-operated vessel with more 3,000 passengers and crew, has been quarantined in a Japanese port for days, which comes after an 80-year-old man who disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus.

“They’ll have to be quarantined once they come back to the U.S. for 14 days,” Roe said in a conference call with local reporters on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Roe said the congressman is sending a letter to Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security.

Roe said he’s been in contact with Arnold Hopland, a doctor from Elizabethton who’s on the cruise ship. Roe said Hopland was complimentary of efforts by crew members on the ship to keep passengers safe.

“But they live in very tight quarters, they’re preparing the food,” Roe said. “It’s not an ideal situation.”

Roe believes the U.S. has the capacity undertake the evacuation effort, making sure passengers test negative for the disease and wear masks, and anticipates Japan would appreciate the U.S. providing assistance in this situation.

“My comment is, as a doctor, is no decision is a decision,” he said, “so I’ve suggested that we act proactively. ... These are American citizens. We have the most sophisticated public health and healthcare system in the world, and they need to be given the advantage of using it.”

Compared to influenza, which he said has a mortality rate of about 0.1%, Roe said the coronavirus from China has a mortality of about 2%. That’s short of the 9% mortality rate of SARS, another respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus.

Roe said members of Congress have been receiving updates about how the U.S. is responding to the outbreak and noted that U.S. agencies are “very well prepared” to deal with the disease.

As of 3 p.m. Thursday, a data tracking map by Johns Hopkins University showed there are a total of 60,364 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 15 in the U.S. The vast majority of confirmed cases are in China. So far, 1,370 people have died from the outbreak. More than 6,000 people have recovered.

President Donald Trump’s budget

President Donald Trump unveiled his $4.8 trillion fiscal year 2021 budget proposal on Monday, which Roe said contains an increase in appropriations for veterans.

“For the most part presidential budgets make good doorstops because the (House of Representatives) actually does all the appropriation bills and the budget,” Roe said Thursday. “The president sends down some requests and then we look at them and act on them or don’t act on them. This particular budget ... his priorities are a 5% increase in the defense budget and I’ve got to say I was thrilled with the president’s budget in the VA. ... Basically, the president’s budget in the VA is up 10%.

“When I got to Congress in 2009, the entire budget that’s for health care, benefits and cemeteries was $97.5 billion. The president’s request this year is $243 billion, almost a quarter of a trillion dollars for our nation’s veterans. Much of that money, a good chunk of it, are increases in (spending on) mental health, opioid addiction. I’m very, very pleased with that budget.”

Roger Stone’s sentencing

According to the Associated Press, the Justice Department is overruling the 7-9 years prison term suggested by federal prosecutors for Trump confidant Roger Stone, who was convicted in November of witness tampering and obstruction.

The department is now seeking a lower sentence for Stone, which comes after Trump called the original recommendation on Twitter “very horrible and unfair.” According to the Associated Press, the four lawyers who prosecuted Stone have quit the case.

“My reaction is that, and take this as you may, I don’t have to run again so I can be unfiltered, ... it doesn’t seem to matter: This president is going to be under attack as long as he’s the president,” Roe said. “It appears that Roger Stone lied, the court said he did, about an investigation over a crime that was never committed, which was the Russia hoax. So nine years seems like, for someone who has never been convicted of anything in his past, seemed a little harsh for me. ... I kind of wish (Trump) hadn’t tweeted, but I kind of understand the president’s frustration. It was a large sentence for that crime.”