April 3, 2020 – Unsurprisingly, the President who has made more than 16,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office has failed to level with the American people when it comes to issues of public health and safety — an arena in which candor can be a matter of life or death. President Trump’s embrace of his personal and political interests over science and expertise left our country unprepared to confront the looming Coronavirus threat and has hampered the response from its earliest days.
As intelligence reports warned of Beijing’s efforts to cover up the scale of the outbreak, Trump lavished praise on Chinese leader Xi Jinping and hid the impending threat from the American people. He claimed Beijing had the outbreak under control, even as China’s bungled early response put millions around the world at risk.
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In one of his first statements on the impending pandemic, Trump in late January downplayed the threat and overplayed Beijing’s success containing the virus. He tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!” Trump added in early February: “Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus. He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days….”
As other countries relied on widespread testing for more targeted isolation of Coronavirus patients, Trump in early March claimed that “anybody that wants a test can get a test,” grossly misrepresenting the state of domestic testing capacity. His false statement spurred an untold number of otherwise healthy Americans to seek a test, needlessly subjecting them to the virus in emergency rooms, hospitals, and doctors offices across the country.
Other administration officials have since conceded the point, even though the President has stood by his false statements. A day after Trump’s false statement Health and Human Services Secretary Azar attempted to correct the record, saying: “You may not get a test unless a doctor or public health official prescribes a test, that is our medical system in the United States, in the same way that you may not get a cardiac medicine if your doctor doesn’t prescribe that.” Governors have voiced a dire need for more testing capacity. Washington Governor Inslee expressed a “desperate need for the testing kits,” while Montana Governor Bullock saidthis week that his state is “one day away, if we don’t get test kits from the C.D.C., that we wouldn’t be able to do testing in Montana.” Underscoring Trump’s detachment from reality on the testing front, he responded to Bullock’s pleas by noting that he had not “heard about testing in weeks.”
Trump promised national drive-through testing sites across the country. Since then, only five have opened. He and his team also misled the American people on the availability of a promised testing website.
Almost three weeks ago, Vice President Pence told the American people: “[B]y this Sunday evening, we’ll be able to give specific guidance on a — on when the website will be available. You can go to the website, as the President said.” The Trump administration later enlisted the Jared Kushner-linked insurance company Oscar Health to create the website; the company subsequently scrapped the effort after meeting with federal officials. According to a senior administration official, the goal of opening drive-through testing sites had to be scaled back because of the nationwide testing shortage. A spokeswoman for Target made clear that the offer remains on the table: “We stand committed to offering our parking lot locations and supporting their efforts when they are ready to activate.”
Trump in March said the United States is “very close to a vaccine,” but health officials say a coronavirus vaccine could take a year to 18 months to develop.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said last month: “In order to get a [coronavirus] vaccine that’s practically deployable for people to use, it’s going to be at least a year to a year and a half at best.” In addition to his public statements, Trump in January retweeted a headline from conservative propaganda site One America News: “Johnson & Johnson to create coronavirus vaccine.”
Trump has consistently misrepresented the status of potential therapeutics, including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. He has called them “game changers” and touted their effectiveness even before the FDA had approved their use in COVID-19 patients, creating shortages for patients who rely on these medications for FDA-approved uses.
The FDA issued an emergency authorization to use the two drugs against the disease, arguing the drugs’ benefits outweighed their risks. However, the letter noted emphasized that they had “only been studied for FDA approved indications, not COVID-19.” The FDA Commissioner earlier this month warned against “provid[ing] false hope,” but continued that Trump “asked us to be aggressive” and “break through exciting, life-saving treatment, and we’re doing that at the FDA.”
Trump said that his administration “moved rapidly to mobilize every instrument of American power.” Nevertheless, he inexplicably refused to invoke the Defense Production Act, delaying the provision of crucial medical equipment to frontline health workers.
Hours after signing an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump clarified on Twitter he would only utilize it in a “worst case scenario.” He tweeted: “I only signed the Defense Production Act to combat the Chinese Virus should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future. Hopefully there will be no need, but we are all in this TOGETHER!” Trump narrowly invoked the DPA in late March in an action directed at General Motors, which by that time had already ramped up ventilator production.
Trump promised 500 million respirator masks. He failed to mention, however, that they could take up to 18 months to arrive.
Trump said the federal government ordered 500 million respirator masks to assist with a shortage of medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic — but it could take as long as 18 months before they reach patients. Meanwhile, the latest estimates suggest that more than 100,000 Americans may succumb to the disease in the coming weeks.
Trump claimed there has been “tremendous” coordination with states and governors. All the while, he has essentially left state and local authorities to drive the response, essentially forcing them to compete against one another for precious resources, including ventilators, driving up prices nationwide.
Trump said in a press conference earlier this month: “Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work … the federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items, and then shipping. We’re not a shipping clerk. As with testing — the governors are supposed to be doing it.” He reiterated the same message to the governors themselves: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves…We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Standing alongside Trump last week, Defense Secretary Esper promised to prioritize the safety of service members and their families, claiming the administration was “committed to taking all necessary measures to safeguard the wellbeing of our most important resource, our people.”
In the wake of an outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the ship’s captain was forced to plead with Navy officials to take “[d]ecisive action” in order to prevent a “tragic outcome” aboard the aircraft carrier. As the Marine Corps also has struggled with an outbreak at its East Coast recruit training center, military leaders — including senior Navy and Army officials — advocated for a pause in training exercises. Nevertheless, Secretary Esper and other administration officials opted to continue apace.