The dysfunctional White House response to the pandemic

The verdict is in and the conclusion is that the Trump administration utterly botched its response to the Covid-19 epidemic. Andy Kroll catalogs the many missteps and that the dysfunction extends to the coronavirus task force created by Trump, compounded by the fact that Trump seems to have enormous faith in his son-in-law Jared Kushner to deal with complex matters even though there is no evidence that he is at all competent. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth just like Trump and they both seem to think that this denotes ability.

If you were to write a playbook for how not to prevent a public-health crisis, you would study the work of the Trump administration in the first three months of 2020. The Trump White House, through some combination of ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence, failed to heed the warnings of its own experts. It failed to listen to the projections of one of its own economic advisers. It failed to take seriously what has become the worst pandemic since the 1918 flu and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And when the White House finally awoke to the seriousness of COVID-19, the response it mustered managed to contain all the worst traits of this presidency. Trump and his closest aides have ignored scientists, enlisted family members and TV personalities and corporate profiteers for help, and disregarded every protocol for how to communicate during a pandemic while spewing misinformation and lies.

Like so many things in Trumpland, the work of the task force has gotten mired in petty politics and internal turf wars. A “shadow” task force emerged, led by Jared Kushner. Officially, Kushner’s team of McKinsey consultants, financiers, and old buddies from his New York business days was meant to coordinate collaboration between the government and the private sector. But it soon devolved into a typical Trump boondoggle. A company Kushner had once invested in, Oscar Health, was tapped to build a government website that would speed up testing (the site was later scrapped). Kushner turned to his brother Josh’s father-in-law, Kurt Kloss, who was a doctor, for recommendations on how to deal with the crisis. That led to Kloss — the father of supermodel Karlie Kloss, Josh’s wife — posting on a Facebook group for emergency-room doctors that he was looking for smart ideas and had a “direct channel to [the] person now in charge at [the] White House.”

Federal agencies that normally play a central role in disaster-response efforts have found themselves left out of the action. Pete Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Congress that his agency wasn’t invited to join the president’s Coronavirus Task Force until the week of March 16th — six weeks after the task force was created.

Other federal employees involved in the response effort have had to respond to different and sometimes competing requests and directives from Pence’s task force and Kushner’s task force. “All of those roles and responsibilities should be relatively well-established,” says one public-health official who’s dealt with the White House. “I’ve heard that people in HHS will get direction from Kushner’s team that directly contradicts what they’re getting from the White House task force, and then trying to deconflict those becomes a huge problem.”

The Trump administration’s reflexive bias against science and facts expertise couldn’t be clearer than in the sidelining of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the crown jewel of the country’s public-health system. Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, sits on the Coronavirus Task Force and has participated in closed-door meetings, but he has appeared at only a few of the dozens of press briefings held by the task force. Trump trashed the agency on Twitter in mid-March (“inadequate and slow”), and the CDC has since taken a back seat to other federal agencies in communicating with the public.

“I’m worried that the CDC is not front and center now,” Dr. Tom Frieden, who served as CDC director from 2009 to 2017, tells Rolling Stone. “In every other public-health emergency in this country since the CDC was founded nearly 75 years ago, it has had a leading role. The CDC is the best source of information on COVID-19.” Frieden adds, “Fighting coronavirus without CDC is like fighting with one hand behind your back.”

By not taking greater control of the medical-supply chain, Trump is, in effect, pitting states against one another, with wealthier states beating out poorer ones. “What we’re doing is creating a world of winners and losers rather than accounting for priorities based on timings, needs, and best use,” says Steve Schooner, a George Washington University professor and expert on government procurement.

Sen. Murphy says the Trump White House’s indecision and conflicting messages have created a Hunger Games-like environment with states desperately trying to outbid one another for medical supplies and relying on personal connections and word-of-mouth information to find the supplies they need. “I got an email the other day from a guy who knows an aid worker in Venezuela who’s come across a stockpile of millions of masks,” Murphy says. “I’m almost embarrassed to forward the information to [Connecticut] Governor Lamont, but it’s my obligation to do it.”

Why is the administration not taking over the supply chain?

“It’s because they’re getting pressure from the Chamber of Commerce to stay out of the marketplace so that the profiteering can continue,” Murphy says. The chamber, which represents some of the nation’s biggest corporations, has lobbied against the Defense Production Act because it claims it would unreasonably disrupt the supply chain during the crisis. (The chamber did not respond to a request for comment.) “The administration has decided to put the profits of these companies ahead of saving lives,” he says.

Kroll goes on to describe one misstep after another.

This is what happens when you disparage technical expertise and treat everything as a political and media management problem, and value the interests of the business sector over those of the public.

I think that the realization that he has badly bungled things has seeped into even his head and he seems to be losing it as can be seen by him becoming even more combative and rambling during the press conferences that are supposedly about the work of the coronavirus task force but have become an opportunity for peevish rants from Trump defending himself and attacking the media.

UPDATE: Robert Mackey has more information on Trump’s unhinged press conference and the propaganda video he put out during it.


  1. machintelligence says

    I doubt that Trump will agree to any debates prior to the election. An almost certain question would be worded something like “We all l have 20/20 hindsight. what would you have done (or in the case of the president, done differently) during this pandemic, knowing what we know now.”
    Trump would never admit that he made ANY mistakes and Biden would roast him until well done.

  2. mnb0 says

    “the fact that Trump seems to have enormous faith in his son-in-law Jared Kushner”
    This is not a fact, this is an assumption and one I dispute. Or rather the underlying assumption is that Donald the Clown actually cares about dealing with the coronacrisis. That’s way too charitable.
    1. Donald the Clown has faith that one way or another the crisis will be dealt with by others;
    2. Donald the Clown has faith that one way or another he can reclaim credits for dealing with the crisis;
    3. Donald the Clown has faith that enough voters will swallow this and vote for him.

    In all three cases chances are high that his faith is justified, especially given the Democrat nominee.
    Now suddenly appointing son-in-law Jared makes lots of sense. Kroll and you are wrong to use the word “missteps”. From the point of view of Donald the Clown they aren’t. His goals are simply not your and mine.

    @1: Mach: “Biden would roast him until well done”
    In your and my eyes, but that doesn’t matter. In the eyes of his fans it will be the opposite, because Biden is an even easier target for Donald the Clown’s campaigns than Hillary Clinton was.

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