Tonight, President Trump will presumably stand in the shadow of Honest Abe and repeat the false claims that the past few months — which have seen more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., 30 million people out of work, and more than 66,000 deaths — have been a “great success story.”
The truth is, while Trump did not cause the coronavirus, he failed to prepare, failed to test, failed to protect workers, failed small businesses, and ultimately, failed to take responsibility — all of which have made this crisis worse. Now, as states across the nation begin to reopen, his failures will make it harder for people to remain safe as they try to resume some sort of normalcy.
Before the President tries to sell his plan for the future, here are some of his failures his administration has yet to rectify:
Failing to Prepare
How Trump Failed. From the beginning, President Trump ignored warnings, downplayed the threat, and did not take the coronavirus seriously. As a result, the federal government was not prepared to handle the pandemic when it arrived on American shores.
- The Trump team failed to implement a 69-page pandemic response playbook the National Security Council prepared in 2016.
- In 2018, President Trump disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic response team.
- In 2019, Trump’s own Council of Economic Advisors published a study that warned of the health and economic losses an influenza pandemic could bring.
- Months before the coronavirus outbreak in China, Trump eliminated a key public health position that helped detect disease outbreaks in China.
- National security officials were sounding the alarm of the coronavirus threat in the President’s intelligence briefings as early as January.
- In February, President Trump said of the coronavirus, “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
Why It Matters Now. Past is prologue. As states begin to reopen their economies, it is clearer than ever that we do not have the testing, equipment, or capacity to deal with surges in COVID-19 infections. And unfortunately, Trump repeatedly denying or ignoring these realities won’t make them go away.
Failing to Test
How Trump Failed. One of the reasons why the U.S. has more confirmed COVID cases than any other country in the world is that we failed to adequately test and track infections. In March, Cynthia Cox, director of the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker said, “The testing failure is putting additional strain on our already challenged health system…The combination of all of these factors will make the U.S. worse off than similar countries.”
- In early March, President Trump said, “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That is still not true to this day.
- A New York Times report showed that the Trump administration was not taking testing seriously in the early days of the pandemic, spending only 10 minutes in their daily meetings discussing it.
- The Trump administration decided not to use tests developed by the World Health Organization, opting to do its own. However, Trump’s Center on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) labs were contaminated, delaying our ability to get tests to those who needed it.
Why It Matters Now. The key to safely and responsibly reopening the economy is robust testing and contact tracing. A recent Harvard study concluded that we need 5 million tests per day to consider reopening the country safely. Currently, many states are far short of the testing levels needed to consider this decision. Public health experts, such as Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, have been arguing for weeks that we are not yet where we need to be on testing. Last week, Dr. Birx said, “we have to have a breakthrough innovation in testing” to see who has had the virus, not just who is currently infected. On April 23rd, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “we need to significantly ramp up not only the number of tests but the capacity to perform them… I am not overly confident right now that we have what it takes to do that.” Internal documents from the CDC and FEMA indicate even a phased reopening “will entail a significant risk of resurgence of the virus.”
Failing to Protect Workers
How Trump Failed. All too often our essential workers, from doctors and nurses to grocery store clerks and delivery workers, have not had the proper equipment and resources to protect them from infection.
- The Health and Human Services Inspector General issued a report that showed challenges hospitals and public health workers faced. In addition to inadequate testing, the report found “substantial challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19. Hospitals described specific challenges, mitigation strategies, and needs for assistance related to personal protective equipment (PPE), testing, staffing, supplies and durable equipment; maintaining or expanding facility capacity; and financial concerns.” Instead of taking this report seriously, President Trump is trying to replace the Inspector General.
- According to ProPublica, “The coronavirus pandemic had unleashed a bonanza for untested contractors riding a wave of unprecedented demand and scarcity of everything from hand sanitizer to ICU beds. So far, the administration of President Donald Trump has handed out at least $5.1 billion in no-bid contracts to address the pandemic, federal purchasing data shows.”
- Meatpacking plants have seen spikes in COVID-19 as workers have been told to continue laboring in crowded conditions, against social distancing protocols, and without proper protective gear. At at least one meatpacking facility, managers reportedly told workers to come in even if they exhibited signs of being sick.
- Nationally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection rate has fallen dramatically from 217 per day to 60 per day since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.
- OSHA has issued only 4,621 citations since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, falling 67% from a comparable period in 2019 and 68% from a comparable period in 2018.
- Many states have burdensome regulations for people to qualify for unemployment insurance, and now with millions of newly unemployed workers, it is harder for them to get the aid they need.
Why It Matters Now. As Trump urges the economy to reopen, worker safety is paramount. If workers are fearful of getting infected, or if an outbreak does occur at some businesses, workers do not appear to have an adequate recourse. The Trump administration, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are pushing for liability protections for businesses if customers or workers get infected with COVID-19. Yet, if workers do not return to work for fear of the coronavirus, or that there are not adequate workplace protections, federal guidelines say they will lose their unemployment aid. Many will be forced to choose between their health and paying the bills.
Failing Small Businesses
How Trump Failed. The $2.2 trillion economic relief CARES Act included the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) intended to provide small businesses aid to keep their employees on payroll and prevent them from going bankrupt. Instead, many large businesses and well-connected companies are getting access to this aid, and those who need it the most are being left behind.
- Nearly 300 public companies received $1 billion in PPP funds. At least 160 publicly traded companies receiving PPP funds paid their executives $1 million in the past year.
- Far from small businesses, at least 31 publicly traded companies that received PPP funds had more than 500 employees.
- Roughly a dozen publicly traded companies that received PPP funds had recently touted their access to capital.
- Companies that outsource jobs have gotten millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
- Meanwhile, one study found “that approximately 15% percent of businesses located in the most affected congressional districts were able to obtain PPP funding until April 15, 2020. By contrast, more than 30% of all businesses operating in the least affected congressional districts were able to tap into PPP funding.”
- PPP funds went to firms with connections to the Trump administration. According to the Washington Post, “As lobbyists blitz Washington for a piece of the massive federal response to the global pandemic, a group of former Trump administration officials and campaign alumni are in the center of the action, helping private interests tap into coveted financial and regulatory relief programs.” Trump donor Monty Bennett owns a hotel conglomerate that received $58 million in PPP funds. Coal company Hallador Energy, whose staff includes former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, received $10 million.
Why It Matters Now. Reopening the economy will not just be flipping a switch. It will be a phased approach, and many small businesses will continue to need access to federal assistance to stay afloat. PPP is a lifeline for them, but the program continues to prioritize large, well-connected corporations, millions of small businesses may not survive the pandemic.
Ultimately, Failing to Take Responsibility
How Trump Failed. President Harry Truman famously said, “the bucks stops here.” President Donald Trump recently said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead of taking responsibility, he appears to be looking for someone else to blame. He has blamed:
- The media for overhyping the coronavirus.
- Impeachment for a slowed reaction to the coronavirus.
- The World Health Organization for being too soft on China while he repeatedly praised the Chinese government for its transparency and efforts to combat coronavirus.
- Governors for testing shortages.
- The Obama administration for broken COVID-19 tests that were prepared three years after Obama left office.
Failing to take responsibility results in mismanagement, miscommunication, and misinformation.
- After claiming he had “total” authority, President Trump said governors call the shots. That has led to bidding wars among states for protective equipment (PPE), testing kits, ventilators, and other resources. Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland purchased 500,000 COVID tests from South Korea. Republican Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts purchased 3 million masks, only to have the federal government seize them.
- As governors make decisions about when and how to reopen their economies, President Trump tweets to “liberate” certain states and encourages protests at state capitals against the stay-at-home orders.
- In the meantime, President Trump has thought out loud about false, dangerous, or unproven treatments like ingesting disinfectants or hydroxychloroquine.
Why It Matters Now. Americans are suffering, and they’re looking to Washington for the support they need to get them through this crisis. It’s time for President Trump to stop pointing fingers and start taking real action to help them. We hope he starts that process tonight — but given his history, we aren’t holding our breath.