Tuesday, February 25, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said to ignore the CDC, world health officials, his own Department of Health and Human Services when they warned about the threat posed by the coronavirus.

Trump was in India today, where he briefly brought up the subject of COVID-19, the dangerous epidemic disease that is spreading rapidly around the globe. Trump said it was "very well under control," a line he has been using for more than a month now, going back to when experts first started sounding the alarm.

He also said that researchers were very close to a vaccine. This is completely false. In reality, no one—including U.S. government experts at HHS and the CDC—expects a vaccine to be possible in less than a year. White House officials later admitted that Trump was confusing COVID-19 with Ebola, a totally different disease.

Still, Trump's acting Homeland Security secretary gamely repeated that vaccine lie at a Senate hearing. And Trump's economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, echoed Trump's assertion that all is well: "We have contained this. I won't say [it's] airtight, but it's pretty close to airtight."

Meanwhile, every other part of the U.S. government was stridently warning Americans today that a pandemic—meaning that the virus was likely to escape quarantines and become widely prevalent in populations around the world—was likely.

  • Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases: "Ultimately we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses."
  • Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services: “This is an unprecedented, potentially severe health challenge globally.... We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus, and we need to be realistic about that."

Trump, who cut $15 billion from programs designed to prevent pandemics last year, has infuriated members of both parties in Congress with a paltry $2.5 billion budget request. He dismissed their complaints as partisan politics, but it was Republican senators who were the angriest today. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told Trump administration officials at a hearing today, “I think the American people are very concerned and should be. I’m concerned. It could be an existential threat to a lot of people in this country. This is not politics, this is doing our job for the American people. ...If you lowball something like this you’ll pay for it later. You’re not only dealing with the crisis you’re dealing with the perception of the American people."

Trump has shown a kind of concern about the crisis, though. According to the Washington Post tonight, Trump is "furious" that fears about COVID-19 are hurting the stock market. The Dow Jones has lost more than seven months of gains in the last two days. 

Why does this matter?

  • Americans' safety and health is more important than the president's approval ratings and stock portfolio.
  • This is not the sort of thing that a president can afford to be "confused" about.
  • Pretending a problem doesn't exist doesn't make it go away.