He could have seen what was going to happen: behind Trump’s failure on the virus

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But dozens of interviews with current and former public servants and a review of emails and other records revealed many previously unreported details and a more complete picture of the roots and extent of his response to the judgment when the deadly virus has spread:

  • The National Security Council office responsible for monitoring pandemics received intelligence reports in early January predicting the spread of the virus in the United States and, within weeks, was raising options such as keeping Americans home from work and shutting down cities the size of Chicago. Trump would avoid such measures until March.

  • Despite Trump’s denial weeks later, he was informed at the time of a memo issued Jan. 29 by his business advisor, Peter Navarro, detailing the potential risks of a coronavirus pandemic : up to half a million dead and billions of dollars in economic loss.

  • Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II directly warned Trump of the possibility of a pandemic during a call on January 30, his second warning to the President on the virus in two weeks. The President, who was on Air Force One while traveling in the Midwest, responded that Mr. Azar was an alarmist.

  • Azar publicly announced in February that the government is implementing a “surveillance” system in five US cities to measure the spread of the virus and allow experts to plan for the next hot spots. He was delayed for several weeks. The slow start of this plan, in addition to the well-documented failures to develop the country’s testing capacity, has left administration officials with little idea of ​​how quickly the virus has spread. “We were flying the aircraft without instruments,” said an official.

  • In the third week of February, the best public health administration experts concluded that they should recommend a new approach to Trump, which would be to warn the American people of the risks and to advocate for such measures. that social estrangement and keeping home from work. But the White House has focused on messaging, and crucial additional weeks have passed before their opinions were reluctantly accepted by the president – when the virus spread largely unhindered.

When Mr. Trump finally agreed in mid-March to recommend social distancing across the country, effectively shutting down much of the economy, he seemed shocked and deflated for some of his closest associates. . One described him as “moderate” and “baffled” by the unfolding of the crisis. An economy on which he had bet his re-election was suddenly in ruins.

He has only found his boast, said the associate, during his daily briefings at the White House, during which he often seeks to rewrite the history of the past few months. He stated at one point that he “felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic” and insisted another that he must be a “cheerleader for the country ”, as if that explains why he had not prepared the public. for what was going to happen.

Trump’s allies and some administration officials have said the criticism is unfair. The Chinese government has misled other governments, they say. And they insist that the president was not getting the proper information, or that the people around him were not conveying the urgency of the threat. In some cases, they say, the specific officials he heard were discredited in his eyes, but once the right information reached him through other channels, he made the right calls.

“While the media and Democrats refused to seriously acknowledge this virus in January and February, President Trump took bold steps to protect Americans and unleash the full power of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus, expand capabilities even accelerate vaccine development when we had no clear idea of ​​the level of asymptomatic transmission or spread, “said Judd Deere, White House spokesperson.

There have been key turning points along the way, opportunities for Mr. Trump to get ahead of the virus rather than chase it away. There were internal debates that presented him with austere choices and times when he could have chosen to ask more in-depth questions and learn more. The way he treated them can shape his re-election campaign. They will certainly shape his legacy.

During the last week of February, it was clear to the administration’s public health team that schools and businesses in hotspots needed to close. But in the turmoil of Trump’s White House, it took three more weeks to persuade the President that failing to act quickly to control the spread of the virus would have dire consequences.

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