“Unbeknownst to many Americans, we’ve been hurtling toward a worsened conflict with Iran for nearly two years now. The Trump administration has been quietly escalating against the country and its allies using a selection of counterterrorism laws, many of them passed after 9/11, that allowed it to act without going through Congress or the public. Former President Barack Obama, meanwhile, left a force in the region to counter the Islamic State that the Trump administration eventually pointed against the Islamic Republic.
Trump and his advisors objected to the violence carried out by Iran and its proxies across the Middle East. They also disliked Obama’s “nuclear deal,” which lifted U.S. economic sanctions on Iran in order to get international inspectors access to the country’s nuclear research program. So in 2018, the Trump administration replaced Obama’s deal with a campaign of sanctions aimed at forcing the Iranian government to change a range of foreign and domestic policies.”
“The single most important failure of the U.S. response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has been the slow rollout of testing. This was an abject failure of bureaucracy. But it was also a failure of presidential leadership.
The countries that have had the most success in containing the outbreak, such as South Korea and Singapore, have done so through early, rapid, and widespread testing and contact tracing, followed by targeted quarantines. South Korea and the United States discovered initial cases of the coronavirus on the same day in January. Since then, some 290,000 people in South Korea have been tested and new daily cases have fallen from 909 to just 93. Despite a much larger population, the United States, tested just 60,000 people in the same period of time.”
“Much of the failure to make mass testing available lies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a Wall Street Journal report makes clear, the CDC, which managed the development of the initial test kits, botched the job in just about every possible way: The CDC not only produced a faulty test that had to be retracted but adopted narrow testing criteria that meant many people with symptoms simply couldn’t be tested.
Perhaps most disastrously, as The Washington Post reports, federal health agencies initially declined to certify tests produced by private companies that were better suited for rapid mass testing anyway. This is despite the fact that experts, including the former head of the FDA, were publicly recommending that they do so as early as February 2.
The CDC was following its usual protocols, developing initial diagnostic tests on its own in order to maintain quality control, as it usually does. But that’s exactly the problem.”
“But this was also a failure of political leadership, most notably from President Donald Trump. For weeks, Trump and senior White House officials actively downplayed the threat of the virus.
As late as February 25, National Economic Council adviser Larry Kudlow was offering assurances that the coronavirus was “contained” and that it was “pretty close to airtight.” Trump treated the virus with similar breeziness, suggesting that the virus was “going to disappear” and that while it might get worse, “nobody really knows.””
“The problem here is obvious: Trump, who as the head of the executive branch oversees federal agencies such as the FDA, did not view the virus as a serious problem—and did not want others to view it that way either. That, in turn, translated into a downstream lack of urgency, which meant that critical aspects of the response were not prioritized. According to The Wall Street Journal, health officials who have examined the testing calamity have concluded that it was a result of both bureaucratic bumbling and a “broader failure of imagination,” in which Trump and other administration officials “appeared unable or unwilling to envision a crisis of the scale that has now emerged.”
The job of a president is to make decisions, set priorities, and convey clear information to both the public and the staff of the executive branch. This is especially important in a moment of crisis, when the executive is in charge of acting both quickly and with sound judgment. In this outbreak, Trump has failed on every count. Not only did he fail to see the threat even when it was apparent to experts, but he actively undermined preparedness by downplaying its significance far long after the problem was apparent, and by providing false and misleading information as the mitigation effort proceeded.”
“The federal health bureaucracy deserves much of the blame for America’s faltering response to the coronavirus outbreak. But the president has made the fiasco worse.
The bureaucracy reports up to an executive, who is tasked with setting priorities and ensuring performance—and for taking responsibility when there are failures. Instead, Trump has inaccurately blamed the Obama administration for failures that occurred on Trump’s watch. (Indeed, under Barack Obama, diagnostic tests for swine flu were designed and approved in less than two weeks.) Asked whether any of this is his fault, the president rejected the idea, saying, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Trump’s refusal to admit failures makes it more likely that he will repeat them, and that more Americans will pay the price.”
“At the White House podium over the last few weeks, each member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force has been cognizant of two messages: one for millions of Americans; another for the man just a few feet away. Even the health experts — many of them not political appointees — have made sure to deliver some praise to the president to help the medicine go down as they dish out some of the more dire predictions about the growing pandemic.
Critics have noted that aides have been premature at times to lavish compliments on the president as they continue to fight the virus. They compared the constant thank-yous to Trump’s televised Cabinet meetings, during which Trump went around the room and had each senior official praise him.
“It undermines the credibility of the experts. … What people need are the facts. They don’t need experts spending time fluffing up the commander in chief,” David Lapan, a former Pentagon spokesperson and vice president of communications at Bipartisan Policy Center said.”
“For those who know the president, public praise and flattery are a valuable political currency. Trump has been noticeably more gracious towards several Democratic governors during the coronavirus outbreak, often citing their praise of his current leadership.
The president on Sunday noted that state governors were “very, very complimentary” on a recent nationwide coronavirus call.
“I watched, over the last few days, Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, I watched Gavin Newsom,” Trump said, referencing the Democratic governors in New York and California, two of the hardest-hit states. “I watched both of them. And they’ve been, you know, very complimentary.””
“The president is hyper aware of TV ratings, which are compiled weekly for him in the White House, and viewership of the briefings during the daytime hours have seen a notable spike as Americans anxiously watch from home.
Administration officials say it’s an opportunity for experts from the task force to answer questions, but it also gives the president a national platform to assure the public and offer himself a pat on the back.”
“All three of the shows making up the network’s top-rated primetime lineup — Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham — featured segments about the coronavirus that ran with misinformation President Trump has embraced, from advocating that people start thinking about heading back to work even if it could leave more people dead to promoting unproven and potentially dangerous drugs as coronavirus cures.
Trump and his high-profile backers are struggling to come to grips with the reality that there are no shortcuts back to normalcy. And now shows watched by millions could put a lot of people’s health and lives in danger.”
“Top health officials first learned of the virus’s spread in China on January 3, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Friday. Throughout January and February, intelligence officials’ warnings became more and more urgent, according to the Post — and by early February, much of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA’s intelligence reports were dedicated to warnings about Covid-19.
All the while, Trump downplayed the virus publicly, telling the public the coronavirus “is very well under control in our country,” and suggesting warm weather would neutralize the threat the virus poses.
Privately, Trump reportedly rebutted health and intelligence officials’ attempts to get him to take action to prepare communities in the US while rebuking officials who were delivering sober risk assessments.”
“Trump is finally taking the virus more seriously, but it’s still unclear how widespread the effects of delays in action will be.”
“Doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators have been warning that they might run out of PPE for weeks now, but the warnings have become more urgent in recent days. For many hospitals, running out of masks is no longer something that “might happen.” The shortage is here.
Among the resources running dangerously low are N95 respirators, the masks that cup the face closely and have been approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to block the inhalation of 95 percent of small airborne particles.
According to NIOSH guidance for extending N95 supply, hospitals should advise their staff to, “discard N95 respirators following close contact with, or exit from, the care area of any patient co-infected with an infectious disease requiring contact precautions.” But as the shortage worsens, reusing these masks is becoming the go-to method of preservation.”
” To avoid having to reuse N95 masks, many hospitals are allocating them only to staff members who are directly entering patient rooms — which, in turn, means limiting the number of staff members who enter patient rooms in the first place.”
“”The management is telling the nurses to wear masks that are not N95, even though most of us would feel more comfortable and safer with the N95,” says another nurse, who works at Baptist Health in Miami. “We are trying to fight for what’s right but when the CDC says you can wear a bandana or scarf in the place of a mask, it’s hard,” referring to the CDC’s guidance for optimizing the supply of facemasks. It notes, “In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.””
” “We are desperate,” said another nurse who works at a New York hospital, who said she had spent her one day off running around collecting donations for PPE. “Please urge anybody who can donate any masks, but most importantly N95s, to do so.””
“As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in late February and early March, President Trump and his allies in the conservative media adopted a skeptical tone. Trump said that “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear;” Fox Business host Trish Regan called it “yet another attempt to impeach the president.”
Some preliminary early data suggests that Trump and Fox downplaying the pandemic made Trump supporters less likely to take the disease seriously early on.”
“on March 13, Trump declared a national emergency over coronavirus, and, afterward, started taking the virus more seriously in public rhetoric and response. And starting on March 13, the partisan tilt disappears”
“Schaffner’s research here is very preliminary. It’s worth noting that there are several possible confounding variables, including the fact that some of the hardest-hit earlier states were blue-leaning coastal ones like Washington, California, and New York.
But his findings are consistent with early polling on coronavirus showing the same partisan gap, with Democrats consistently saying they were more likely to take individual action on coronavirus than Republicans.
It also fits with what we’ve observed more broadly during the Trump administration: The president’s stance on something causes Republicans to align with it and Democrats to oppose it, as well as a large, pre-Trump body of research on public opinion suggesting that voters often take cues on complex policy issues from trusted elites.”
“as evidence continues to mount for a partisan gap in coronavirus response early on, we should take seriously the possibility that Trump returning to downplaying the risks of the virus would also lead to a vast swath of the American public ignoring public health advice — and thus contributing to the pandemic’s rapid spread.”
“The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality facing the Trump administration, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise with members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama.”
“The Trump team was told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response was “paramount” — warnings that seem eerily prescient given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.”
“But roughly two-thirds of the Trump representatives in that room are no longer serving in the administration. That extraordinary turnover in the months and years that followed is likely one reason his administration has struggled to handle the very real pandemic it faces now, former Obama administration officials said.”
“Obama aides, in op-eds and essays ripping the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, have pointed to the Jan. 13, 2017, session as a key example of their effort to press the importance of pandemic preparedness to their successors.
In a Friday op-ed, Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, blasted Trump for comments such as “you can never really think” that a pandemic like the coronavirus “is going to happen.” She mentioned the 2017 session as one of many instances of the Obama administration’s efforts to help its successor be ready for such a challenge. She also slammed the Trump team for dismantling the National Security Council section that would play a lead role in organizing the U.S. response to a global pandemic.”
“Lisa Monaco, Obama’s homeland security adviser, explained the thinking behind the January 2017 session in a recent essay for Foreign Affairs. “Although the exercise was required, the specific scenarios we chose were not,” she wrote. “We included a pandemic scenario because I believed then, and I have warned since, that emerging infectious disease was likely to pose one of the gravest risks for the new administration.””
“The Trump campaign, like the rest of America, was shocked to win the November 2016 election. Soon afterward, Trump cast aside his team’s transition prep work that had happened already and started over; some of his aides described tossing carefully collected binders full of possible personnel picks into trash bins. It was days, sometimes weeks, before his nominees and their aides showed up to meet the people they were replacing — if they did so at all — or to engage in transition meetings. Obama aides said they left detailed memos for their successors, but that quite often it appeared those memos were never read. Many on the Obama side were genuinely surprised that so many actually showed up for the Jan. 13, 2017, exercise, and there were expectations that some would skip it. On the Obama side, several agencies were represented by their second-in-command at the meeting for reasons including a belief that Trump’s principals wouldn’t show.
The gathering was held to satisfy a requirement in a 2016 law that updated the procedures around presidential transitions to require, among other things, that the outgoing administration “prepare and host interagency emergency preparedness and response exercises.” Obama also mentioned it in a 2016 executive order laying out his transition goals.”
“some Obama aides who attended said they were left with the impression that many of the Trump aides showed up to simply check off a box more than to learn. The impression was boosted in part because the transition overall was going so poorly. Several Trump nominees had barely even spoken to their Obama counterparts.”
““The problem is that they came in very arrogant and convinced that they knew more than the outgoing administration — full swagger,” one former Obama administration official who attended said.”
“Asked whether information about the pandemic exercise reached the president-elect, a former senior Trump administration official who attended the meeting couldn’t say for sure but noted that it wasn’t “the kind of thing that really interested the president very much.”
“He was never interested in things that might happen. He’s totally focused on the stock market, the economy and always bashing his predecessor and giving him no credit,” the person said. “The possibility things were things he didn’t spend much time on or show much interest in.
“Even though we would put time on the schedule for things like that, if they happened at all, they would be very, very brief,” the former official continued. “To get the president to be focused on something like this would be quite hard.”
Anything associated with Obama or his administration was also a no-go zone for Trump aides. If you brought them up, “that would be an immediate rejection, like, ‘Why are they even here? Why the fuck did you ask them?’””
“President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States has so far been a disaster.
He initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak at home, directly contradicting his top health officials. He’s displayed a stunning lack of knowledge about basic things like how vaccines work and how quickly a coronavirus vaccine could realistically be developed and distributed to Americans. And he’s publicly spread misinformation about how deadly the disease, officially known as Covid-19, is.
All of that is extremely counterproductive to effective crisis response, especially for dealing with something so complicated as the novel coronavirus.”
““This isn’t a normal crisis,” Konyndyk said, “and atypical crises require real leadership from the top to solve.””
“I, along with others, got to meet President Obama for a few minutes in the Oval Office because of our Ebola work. The moment I walked in, he started quizzing me about the Ebola burial teams, which was an important but fairly detailed element of the overall response. The fact that he was aware of those teams, and could ask me detailed questions about them, absolutely blew my mind.
You just don’t see that attention to detail with Trump. I really sympathize with the people who are working on this response within the government right now. Remember: It’s many of the same people — in fact, it’s mostly the same people — that worked on Ebola and other crises. They’re all career people.
What that tells you is that the team isn’t a determining variable here. The president is.”
“Think back to when Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the US in 2017. Both of those were standard-issue, major hurricane events. They hit states in the mainland United States that were well prepared and had strong disaster management agencies. The government response therefore was mostly fine — bureaucracies were set up for moments like that.
But when you have nonstandard crises — like what Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico or this coronavirus outbreak — they require a president to get the government out of its comfort zone, to push it to do something it is not built to do. There’s really no one else in the government to do that.”
“There were all these different moving pieces that all sat in different parts of the federal government. They weren’t put together to facilitate a coherent response. It really took presidential leadership and the installation of a “czar” to finally bring order to that chaos. Ultimately, it was President Obama making very abundantly clear, to the entire federal bureaucracy, that this was a first-tier priority for him and that everyone needed to step up.
The other really important element to that was also not accepting business-as-usual rationales from the agencies.
There were many times during the Ebola response in 2014 when I, on behalf of my team, or others in the government, would be getting pressed by the White House to do something. We would say, “Look, we can’t do that,” or, “We’re working as hard as we can.” And the White House, to their credit, would come back with some variation of, “Well, that’s all well and good, but it’s not getting the job done.””
“President Trump’s insistence that the strategy of keeping the disease out of the country was succeeding really handicapped the rest of the response. Here’s why: It makes it harder for the government to plan for the moment the strategy stops working. That’s critical in this kind of situation.
The whole point of an overseas containment strategy is to buy you time. It delays the arrival of an outbreak in a country, but it cannot ultimately stop it. You’re not, or you shouldn’t be, hoping that that will be all that you need to do.
I don’t think the president understands that, and I don’t know how openly his team dissuades him of that view.”
“The first time a US official talked about a pivot to preparedness was when the Centers for Disease Control’s Nancy Messonnier detailed last month how she’d started talking to her kids about the disruption they might face in their lives. And the president and his allies went ballistic. It’s a microcosm of the dynamic at play here, that even acknowledging the reality that this strategy might not fully work or might not be fully sufficient set the president off.”