In Focus: Trump’s Disastrous Coronavirus Response

The coronavirus pandemic in the United States is getting worse because of President Trump. Full stop. The seeds of this public health disaster were planted on President Trump’s first day in office.

Trump’s War on American Health Care

From his first day in office, President Trump has shown that he doesn’t value the American people’s health care or public health. In fact, his first act as president was to sign an executive order instructing all his cabinet agencies to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA). What has followed has been nearly four years of an administration that has done more to rip health care away from Americans than to help them gain it. And when President Trump’s plan to repeal the law in Congress failed, he and his administration continued their campaign to sabotage the law at every turn while pursuing its complete dismantling in the courts.

What does all this have to do with the coronavirus crisis in the U.S.? Quite a lot:

  • As a result of President Trump’s sabotage of the law, the uninsured rate has increased every year he has been in office — and millions more Americans are uninsured as a result. That’s millions of Americans who lack coverage if they get sick from the coronavirus or develop long-term complications. Worse still, he is pushing a lawsuit that’s now before the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, which could lead to the elimination of coverage for more than 20 million Americans and the termination of Medicaid expansion, end protections for as many as 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions and spike costs for millions of others, including seniors.

  • Junk insurance plans, which have been pushed by the Trump administration to undermine the ACA, do not provide comprehensive coverage and are therefore not required to cover COVID-19 tests, which can cost thousands of dollars. These plans come with high out-of-pocket costs, large deductibles, and no guarantee that any treatment for coronavirus and related health problems would be covered by such plans.

  • And of course, President Trump’s relentless war on the ACA and repeated efforts to slash Medicaid and Medicare have created an entire administration that devalues the health care of the American people.

While Congress is focused on the immediate response — shoring up our health care system, protecting workers and small businesses from economic devastation and stimulating the economy, among other things — President Trump’s efforts to repeal and sabotage American health care have real and significant consequences for the coronavirus response. The president and his allies must:

  • Drop the lawsuit that threatens the health care of millions.

  • Eliminate junk plans, which undermine the ACA and don’t guarantee coverage or protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

  • Re-open open enrollment so Americans can shop for plans and get covered.

  • Withdraw unnecessary and burdensome Medicaid waivers, such as those that permit block grants and work requirements, that undermine coverage.

Trump Decimated Pandemic Response

The Trump administration’s sabotage of health care does not stop at increasing costs and reducing coverage. It also includes failing to adequately protect Americans from infectious disease outbreaks. From proposed budget cuts to leaving key positions unfilled to making it harder for people to access health care, President Trump has worked the last three years to undermine and dismantle our pandemic response apparatus, leaving Americans more vulnerable to the coronavirus

In 2018, President Trump dismantled the entire global health security unit at the National Security Council, reassigning Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, a long-time public health official who led the unit, and forcing out homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, another key official for coordinating infectious disease preparedness.

In addition, Trump did nothing to replenish funds for the global health section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2017, the Washington Post reported that Trump had “failed to fill crucial public health positions across the government, leaving the nation ill-prepared” for a global pandemic.

If all this isn’t bad enough, President Trump’s current budget proposal, submitted to Congress after this outbreak began in China, once again seeks cuts to key programs for global disease response and domestic preparedness. In his 2021 budget, Trump proposed steep cuts to the two agencies in charge of the coronavirus response, seeking to reduce NIH funding by $3.7 billion and CDC funding by $1.29 billion. He previously proposed cutting global health funding in his 2020 budget from more than $11 billion to less than $8 billion, its lowest level since 2008. Per Foreign Policy, other Trump-backed efforts included a proposal for “reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS.”

And what do all these cuts and proposed cuts to pandemic response and preparedness and health care, including over $1 trillion in proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid coincide with? Trump’s obscene tax cuts for billionaires, Wall Street, and corporate America. In Trump’s presidency, the health of millions of Americans has taken a back seat to tax cuts for the richest Americans.

Trump’s Fragile Economy Left Americans Vulnerable

Workers are being laid off at an unprecedented pace; the stock market has plummeted to the point of erasing all gains made since Trump’s inauguration; and the economy is almost certainly heading toward a recession.

There’s no question that Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis severely worsened the pandemic’s impact on our economy. His failure to fully accept the severity of the moment and take action early worsened the spread, and his numerous incorrect claims unnecessarily rattled financial markets.

But our current economic troubles were a long time coming. Part of the reason our economy was so vulnerable to coronavirus is that many people were already hurting and struggling, and most Americans hadn’t felt any benefits from Trump’s economy. Wages were stagnant and costs were too high, so when the crisis hit, there was no buffer. Tax cuts for the rich and wealthy corporations failed to trickle down to workers. Factories and farmers struggled because of Trump’s reckless trade policies. And now, Trump’s short-sighted economic policies weakened some of the tools available to fight the downturn.

The coronavirus outbreak is hurting sectors that were already stretched to their breaking point by Trump’s reckless trade policies and broken promises: 

  • U.S. manufacturing was already on unstable footing when the coronavirus hit. Manufacturing hasn’t kept pace with the overall economy, and industrial output fell by 1.2 percent last year. In fact, U.S. manufacturing was in a mild recession for the entirety of 2019, as factory production shrank by 1.3 percent. And now, the weakened manufacturing and transportation sectors have slowed the supply of vital products amid the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Farmers were struggling because of Trump’s reckless trade policies and false promises about increased purchases. While Trump continued to claim he had saved U.S. agriculture, farm bankruptcies increased by nearly 20 percent in 2019, and Trump’s own Department of Agriculture said that it expected farm debt in 2020 to rise to a record $425 billion.

  • The retail industry cut more than 75,000 jobs last year and closed more than 9,300 stores, a huge spike from the previous year.

Trump’s economic policies benefited the rich while leaving millions of Americans vulnerable to the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak:

  • More than half of American jobs are at risk and millions have already lost jobs or hours because of the coronavirus outbreak, which only exacerbates the struggles for working families. About half of Americans already live paycheck to paycheck and many worry daily about being able to pay their bills, as household debt hit a record high of $14 trillion at the end of 2019.

Trump’s economy is built on shaky foundations of short-term stimuli and corporate debt:

  • The coronavirus outbreak has already begun to take a toll on consumer spending, which was a rare bright spot and one of the few factors keeping Trump’s economy on stable footing.

  • Corporations racked up $19 trillion in debt that made the economy more vulnerable to a downturn after spending the money they got from Trump’s tax cuts on stock buybacks for themselves and their wealthy shareholders. Despite Trump’s promises, corporations did next to nothing to boost workers’s paychecks.

Trump’s short-sighted economic policies weakened some of the tools available to fight the downturn:

  • Despite inheriting a strong economy, Trump racked up $1 trillion deficits by pushing massive tax cuts that didn’t provide a sustained economy boost to benefit workers like he promised.

  • Trump forced the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates because of his reckless trade policies, leaving it with little room to lower rates even further and half as much firepower as it did going into the last recession.

  • Trump’s tax law eliminated provisions to help companies avoid laying off workers during an economic downturn in order to help fund a bigger cut to the corporate tax rate.

The bottom line: Trump created a fragile economy that was especially vulnerable to the downturn that resulted from the coronavirus outbreak. Despite his promises, the gap between the richest Americans and everyone else grew bigger than ever under his watch, making it more difficult for working Americans during this economic downturn. Once the coronavirus hit, Trump’s lies and failed response only made things worse.

In a Public Health Outbreak, The President’s Lies Could be Deadly

In a public health emergency like the global coronavirus pandemic we are now facing, it’s vital that the public be told honestly the severity of the crisis, the level of preparedness of the government and the public health system, what steps to take to prevent the spread of the virus, and what to expect in terms of disruption to people’s lives and the economy. Yet President Trump, in an effort to protect his own poll numbers and boost his chances for reelection, has lied about all these things and misled the public in virtually every public appearance and speech on the issue since the crisis began.

His efforts to downplay the seriousness of this crisis has real consequences for public health as polls show many Americans are not treating the virus seriously enough and are ignoring the advice of public health experts to stay home and avoid public gatherings – increasing the likelihood that the coronavirus will continue to spread. Among the president’s misleading statements and blatant lies:

  • Claims that the virus has been contained and will soon disappear:

    • “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” 1/22/20, CNBC

    • “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” 2/2/20 Sean Hannity interview

    • “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” 2/10/20 campaign rally.

    • “When you have 15, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” 2/26/20 news conference

    • Regarding community spread: “I don’t think it’s inevitable. It probably will. It possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared.” 2/26/20 news conference

    • “This blindsided the world. And I think we’ve handled it very, very well.” 3/9/20 news conference

    • “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.” 3/11/20 Oval Office address

    • “It’s something that we have tremendous control over.” 3/15/20 news conference

    • “Many states don’t have a problem.” 3/25/20 news conference

  • Claims that the coronavirus is similar to the seasonal flu and has an overblown death rate:

    • “This is a flu. This is like a flu.” 2/26/20 news conference

    • “I think the 3.4 percent is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, and — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this.” 3/4/20 Sean Hannity interview.

    • “I think we’re substantially under 1 percent because the people that get better are not reporting.” 3/24/20 Fox News town hall

    • “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off.” 3/24/20 Fox News town hall

  • Claims that the U.S. nearly has a coronavirus vaccine and game-changing treatments ready to go, and that testing and treatment are readily available for all:

    • “We’re very close to a vaccine.” 2/25/20 news conference

    • “The companies are the best in the world and they’re working on it and they think they’re pretty close to having it… But they have other things that can help – I guess I’d use the word ‘cure’ it, fix it.” 3/2/20 local interview

    • “Anybody that wants a test can get a test.” 3/6/20 remarks at CDC

    • “I met with the leaders of health insurance industry, who have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments.” 3/11/20 Oval Office address

    • “Ultimately, a vaccine, which takes a little bit longer because of the test periods and a couple of other reasons, you’re going to have it very quickly because of the great knowledge.” 3/13/20 news conference

    • “Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that, and it’s — it was approved very, very quickly and it’s now approved by prescription.” 3/19/20 news conference

    • “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” 3/21/20 tweet

    • “The testing is going very well.” 3/21/20 news conference

Needless to say, as the Washington Post and other news outlets have shown, all these claims, some which President Trump made on several occasions, are false or misleading. The U.S. does not have the coronavirus outbreak under control, it won’t miraculously disappear when it gets warm, and we aren’t close to a vaccine. Insurance companies have not agreed to waive copayments for treatments, it’s a damnable and verifiable lie that anyone who wants to be tested can get tested, it is not just like the flu, and the world–certainly the U.S.–was not entirely blindsided by this and squandered weeks of preparation time.

Trump’s Testing Travesty

The Trump administration’s development and distribution of coronavirus testing has been an unmitigated disaster, marked by technical issues, bureaucratic problems and lack of leadership. Don’t take our word for it — as Dr. Fauci said, “Yeah, it is a failing, let’s admit it.”

Now, instead of taking responsibility, Trump is trying to pass blame on to states and hospitals  who are begging for his help getting more tests. He mocked them, saying, “We’re the federal government, we’re not supposed to stand on street corners doing testing.”

Consider this: the U.S. and South Korea had their first confirmed coronavirus case on the same day — January 20. But the U.S. remains far behind South Korea on per capita coronavirus testing. Why? Because Trump delayed efforts to expand coronavirus testing for nearly two months, at enormous cost to our country, wasting precious time needed to stop the spread of the virus.

First, Trump repeatedly downplayed the testing supply shortage, promising in early March that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” when that simply was not true. While he falsely claimed that “testing has been going very smooth,” labs faced a huge testing backlog and states still awaited testing equipment.

Trump’s failure to immediately address the testing shortage had dire consequences. Health experts and local officials confirmed that his botched rollout of testing prevented them from knowing the spread of the virus early, rendering it virtually impossible to contain.

Trump’s testing travesty is the genie that can’t be put back in the bottle. His failure to test allowed the virus to spread rapidly and undetected. Because wide scale testing was not available, more people are sick, more people have died, and there is exponentially higher disruption to our economy and lives.

Trump botched coronavirus testing efforts from the start and has failed to catch up as the pandemic worsens.

  • On January 20, the U.S and South Korea both had their first confirmed coronavirus cases. Instead of adopting the WHO’s test, the CDC put out its own test kit that had to be halted after reports that it was producing inclusive results.

  • By early February, the WHO had shipped 250,000 diagnostic tests, while the CDC was shipping about 160,000 tets around the country, most of which would be deemed unusable because of fault results.

  • By mid February, just 2,009 coronavirus tests had been conducted nationwide, while South Korea tested roughly 1,000 people per day.

  • As the U.S. experienced problems developing its test, CDC officials established very limited criteria for who could be tested, which hid the coronavirus epidemic as community spread took off.

  • The CDC moved too slowly to tap into the expertise of academia and private companies, making it harder to expand testing and setting the U.S. far behind other countries in test production and distribution.

  • Internal emails showed confusion at the CDC as the agency underestimated the threat of the virus early on in the outbreak and struggled to communicate effectively with local officials about containment and mitigation.

Even as new tests were developed, Trump overpromised and underdelivered.

  • The CDC director expressed doubt in early March that labs had enough materials to conduct the coronavirus tests, while Trump and Azar dismissed concerns.

  • As laboratory workers warned of dire shortages of testing supplies, Azar suggested reports of shortages were “anecdotal” and caused by confusion about how to find alternative products.

  • While Trump assured Americans that “with each passing day, our increasingly extensive testing capabilities are giving us a better understanding of the virus and its path,” catastrophic shortages of supplies forced states to act creatively and on their own acquire and distribute samples for testing.

  • In late March, Trump denied hearing of any testing problems, even as states across the country continued reporting shortages of testing kits.

  • To cover up for his testing failure, Trump began to tout accomplishments that didn’t live up to the hype. Trump touted the opening of drive-thru testing sites, but only a few have opened nationwide and none were open to the general public.

  • And during a Rose Garden briefing in April, Trump touted the availability of a rapid test to expand capacity, yet states are only expected to get 15 machines maximum and only 100 tests each.

Trump repeatedly downplayed concerns about testing shortages and refused to take responsibility for his administration’s failed response on testing.