Over the past few weeks, Donald Trump has worked to minimize the threat of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. Despite efforts to address the issue, panic about the epidemic has tanked the stock market and slowed commerce around the globe.
Insiders are now saying that the response within the White House is mired in chaos, driven by the desire to stabilize the markets rather than address the threat to public health.
The Washington Post spoke with nearly two dozen officials, former aides, lawmakers, and public health experts about the current state of the White House’s response to the coronavirus crisis. They paint a picture of a struggling administration, which points to a lack of leadership and a clear plan.
“It’s complete chaos. Everyone is just trying to get a handle on what the [expletive] is going on,” said one senior official.
Ron Klain — who headed up the response to Ebola under former President Barack Obam — said that Trump’s administration is facing challenges because of the president’s cuts to public health programs and due to the elimination of the pandemic preparedness unit.
“The confusion about who’s in charge, the debate about how to bring the 14 people back from the cruise ship, questions about hospitals getting equipment and expertise they need — all these things would have a structure managing them and driving them and wouldn’t have to be going through this initial confusing, somewhat disoriented phase they’re going through now.”
Since news of the outbreak began spreading, Trump has continuously suggested that the disease will not take hold in the United States. The president claimed that the virus will likely fade out as the weather warms up, saying that healthy people have nothing to worry about.
However, the Centers for Disease Control and Trump’s own health officials have warned that the disease could pose a serious threat to the country and its infrastructure. Instead, Trump has argued that the coronavirus is a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats, expressing anger that the media is covering the disease in a way to intentionally harm his reputation.
Trump has since centralized the coronavirus response under the umbrella of Vice President Mike Pence — a move that has been questioned by people both outside and inside the office.
As reported by The Washington Post, “Some of Pence’s own advisers wondered whether having Pence in charge was a good idea, given the messy situation and a lack of experience in his office on the topic.”
According to The Washington Post, “The decision to tap Pence and streamline all communication through the vice president’s office was primarily driven by a potent combination of a lack of leadership and structure inside the White House.”
Within the White House, officials have reportedly said that they are worried about the administration’s lack of preparation. Additionally, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have expressed concern as well.
Since the outbreak began, the response to the virus has been regarded as inadequate by many people. One whistleblower claimed that the employees helping evacuees were poorly trained, lacked protective gear, and traveled back home via public airliners.
The U.S. has also been falling behind other countries in testing for the virus. Moreover, infighting between the White House and health officials has further strained and slowed the process.
Reportedly, some officials within the White House have said that the response has been aimed at addressing the unstable market rather than focusing on tackling public health. These claims have added to the public perception that the response has been inadequate and inappropriate.