Signs missed and steps slowed in Donald Trump’s pandemic response
In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump attends a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Trump first publicly mentioned the coronavirus on Jan. 22, during the visit at the economic conference. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

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White House officials now believe Trump didn’t fully grasp the threat because of poor communication by feuding officials.

By the time President Donald Trump first spoke publicly about the coronavirus, it may already have been too late.

Interviewed at Davos, a gathering of global elites in the Swiss Alps, the president on Jan. 22 played down the threat posed by the respiratory virus from China, which had just reached American shores in the form of a solitary patient in Washington state.

“We have it totally under control,” Trump said on CNBC. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

In the 11 weeks since that interview, the coronavirus has reached every corner of the globe. It has infected more than 500,000 Americans and killed at least 20,000. It has rewritten the rules of society, isolated people in their homes, closed schools, devastated the economy and put millions out of work.



On New Year’s Eve, China informed the World Health Organization of a “mysterious pneumonia outbreak” spreading through Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million.

The government closed a seafood market at the center of the outbreak, moved all patients with the virus to a specially designated hospital and collected test samples to send to government laboratories. Doctors were told to stay quiet; one who issued a warning online was punished. He later died of the virus.

The Pentagon first learned about the new coronavirus in December from open source reports emanating from China. By early January, warnings about the virus had made their way into intelligence reports circulating around the government. On Jan. 3, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, received a call from his Chinese counterpart with an official warning.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was alerted to the virus around the same time — and within two weeks was fearful it could bring global catastrophe.

Quickly, U.S. intelligence and public health officials began doubting China’s reported rates of infection and death toll. They pressed China to allow in U.S. epidemiologists — both to assist the country in confronting the spread and to gain valuable insights that could help buy time for the U.S. response. U.S. officials also pressed China to send samples of the virus to U.S. labs for study and for vaccine and test development.

On Jan. 11, China shared the virus’ genetic sequence. That same day, the National Institutes of Health started working on a vaccine.

Ultimately, the U.S. was able to get China’s consent to send two people on the WHO team that traveled to China later in the month. But by then precious weeks had been lost and the virus had raced across Asia and had begun to escape the continent.



For much of January, administration officials were doing a delicate balancing act.

Internally, they were raising alarms about the need to get Americans on the ground in China. Publicly, they were sending words of encouragement and praise in hopes Beijing would grant the Americans access.

Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, persistently urged more aggressive action in calling out China and sending teams there.

But while word of the virus was included in several of the president’s intelligence briefings, Trump wasn’t fully briefed on the threat until Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called with an update on Jan. 18 while the president was at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

Trump spent much of the conversation wanting to talk about vaping; he was considering a new policy restricting its use. White House officials now believe Trump didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the threat to the U.S. in part because Azar, who was feuding with several members of Trump’s inner circle, did a poor job communicating it.

Azar was trying to walk a fine line between Trump’s upbeat statements and preparing the government for what might lie ahead. “America’s risk is low at the moment,” he later told House lawmakers. “That could change quickly.”

Moreover, the president was in the middle of his Senate impeachment trial and focused on little else, punctuating nearly every White House meeting with complaints about the Democrats out to get him, grievances he would continue late into the night on the phone from his private quarters.

Trump also had little desire to pressure Beijing or criticize its president, Xi Jinping, with whom he wanted to secure cooperation on ending a yearlong trade war before the reelection campaign kicked into high gear. When Trump fielded his first question about the virus in Davos, he enthusiastically praised Xi’s response, going well beyond the calibrated risk-reward messaging his aides were encouraging.



The West Wing was adrift.

By late January, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney held the post in name only as rumors swirled of his impending, post-impeachment departure. He was on the initial coronavirus task force, which was plagued with infighting. At the same time, the White House Office of Management and Budget was clashing with Azar’s HHS over money to combat the virus.

HHS wanted to send a special coronavirus funding request to Congress but the White House budget office resisted for weeks, insisting that HHS should instead repurpose $250 million of its existing budget to bolster the national stockpile by buying protective equipment. HHS, however, claimed that without congressional authorization it could not buy the needed quantities of masks, gowns and ventilators to rapidly bolster the national stockpile

Eventually, an initial request went to Congress for $2.5 billion in virus aid, an amount that lawmakers of both parties dismissed as too low. The bill that Congress quickly passed and Trump signed — the first of three so far — was for $8 billion.

Even as the two agencies fought, there was no influential voice in Trump’s orbit pushing him to act swiftly on the pandemic. Trump had surrounded himself with loyalists and few in the administration, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, were able to redirect the president’s attention. In mid-January, meetings were being held at the White House, but the focus was on getting U.S. government employees back from China, which was still playing down how contagious the virus was.

A Jan. 29 memo from senior White House aide Peter Navarro accurately predicted some of the challenges faced by the U.S. from what would become a pandemic, though he was hardly the first to sound the alarm. But he, like Pottinger, was viewed by others in the White House as a “China hawk” and their concerns were rejected by others in the administration who did not bring them to the president.

On Jan. 30, the WHO declared the virus a global health emergency while Trump held a packed campaign rally in Iowa. The next day, the Trump administration banned admittance to the United States by foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the past 14 days, excluding the immediate family members of American citizens or permanent residents.

Trump styled it as bold action, but continued to talk down the severity of the threat. Despite the ban, nearly 40,000 people have arrived in the United States on direct flights from China since that date, according to an analysis by The New York Times.



On Feb. 10, Trump stood before thousands of supporters packed into a New Hampshire rally and declared: “By April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”

The crowd roared its approval at Trump’s unproven assertion. The Senate had acquitted Trump on the impeachment charges and the president shifted his focus toward reelection even as others in the administration keyed in on the virus.

Federal officials put the CDC solely in charge of developing a test for the virus and left out private interests, a choice that cost precious time when the resulting CDC test proved faulty.

Trump spent many weeks shuffling responsibility for leading his administration’s response to the crisis. He put Azar in charge of the administration’s virus task force before replacing him with Vice President Mike Pence toward the end of February. Even as the virus spread across the globe, prevailing voices in the White House, including senior adviser Jared Kushner and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, urged the president to avoid big steps that could roil financial markets.

The president had firmly linked his fate to Wall Street, and it took a tumble by the markets for Trump to ratchet up his response. In late February, while Trump was on a trip to India, the Dow Jones plummeted 1,000 points amid rising fears about the coronavirus.

Trump stewed about the collapse on his Feb. 26 flight back to Washington and lashed out at aides over comments made by a top CDC official, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, during a briefing the prior day, when she warned Americans that they would have to prepare for fairly severe social distancing.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” she said.

The White House announced that Pence would brief the media about the response that night. But Trump took the podium instead and has not relinquished the stage much since, belatedly making himself the face of the battle against the virus.

When Trump first took the lectern in the White House briefing room to speak about the virus, the U.S. had 15 coronavirus patients.

“We’re at that very low level, and we want to keep it that way,” Trump said. “We’re very, very ready for this.”


Reprinted with permission from The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • Sonja Fitch

    April 12, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Desantis is following the footsteps of failure of his master paranoid delusional liar trump! Desantis is killing folks cause it makes Desantis and his master trump look “better”. How many are infected and dying in ALF and prisons here in Florida. Desantis does not give a shit! As long as his master says good job evil one!

    • Mark Edgette

      April 12, 2020 at 9:50 am

      You’ve had coronavirus if you’ve had the common cold aka coronavirus who the fuck cares about this weakass virus with a 99% survival rate big fucking deal the deaths are the same numbers as the flu Tb is a far bigger threat than this bullshit you have to be very stupid to believe this bullshit.

      • Lisa Martell

        April 12, 2020 at 7:37 pm

        This is not the common cold. Not even close. Terrifyingly contagious. You wouldn’t even know you are positive yet you could be spreading it everywhere you go. I do give you credit for not blaming 5G, the deep state, Obama, Hillary, Bernie, all Democrats and Rino’s, main stream media, the WHO (not the band), etc… Even Trump knows this is biblical stuff.
        I wish that you, your friends, family, co-workers and loved ones stay safe and healthy.
        Two words for you… stay inside.

        I’ve already taken too much time out of my life to deal with the likes of you.

  • John Kociuba

    April 12, 2020 at 10:12 am

    Dear Citizens ~

    Re: Coup d etat 5.0

    They tried frame Hon. President Donald John Trump with sex scams, fake Russian hoaxes, tax schemes, Ukraingate, Big media lying by telling citizens the President is lying, Media promoting Trump racist propaganda.

    YES. Lately it was “The President Is A Racist Over China” everything to promote and expand Democrat-Socialism which by very definition is MENSHEVIK COMMUNISM! Now let’s try DISEASE to overthrow the President of the United States!

    What? You believe Communists, Wahhabist and Luciferians would kill 5 million globally to oust our President?

    Remember when Hon. President Donald John Trump said to Communist controlled United Nations? “America will never be a socialist country!” Boy oh boy all the investigations ramped up after that!

    Gov. Ralph Northam is a Communist! Bernie Sanders is a Communist! Andrew Cuomo is a Communist! The entire Democratic Party are Communists! Half the Republican Establishment “DEEP STATE” are Fabian Communists!

    WE NEED JOSEPH MCCARTHY ON STEROIDS THEREBY ROUNDING UP THE REAL COMMUNISTS LIKE ANTHONY FAUCI, CLINTONS, GATES, ZUCKERBERG, SOROS, BEZOS, etc before their tyrannical dreams lead American Citizens into mass executions of political leaders.

  • John Kociuba

    April 12, 2020 at 10:29 am

    Dear Citizens ~

    Re: Revaluation

    Let me offer statistics.

    1. 2% of the 7.8 Billion people that inhabit this planet are hardcore Luciferians. That’s a lot! Plus collaborators. They hate Christians and America.

    2. Wahhabism aka Radical Islam is 15% of 1.4 Billion Muslims so that’s about 280 million plus collaborators

    3. Communists. Billions!

    The population of the United States is 330 million with 10s of millions engaged in the practices I just mentioned.


    Oh, your enemies are White, Black, Hindu, Chinese, Hispanic and they use 1964 Unconditional Civil Rights Act as a shield for their treacherous insurrection.

    • Lisa Martell

      April 12, 2020 at 7:54 pm

      That was a mouthful John. Must be all of the social distancing.
      Just stop. Please stop. I can’t even be respectful and say that
      I take your point but I disagree. This is biblical and Trump knows
      it. He did not create this virus but his non-response response is
      stunning. He owns the illness and death here in our country and he
      now owns the depression level economy and the pain and suffering
      that comes with that. If it makes you feel any better, there are
      many countries in the same situation. We don’t suffer alone.
      Happy Easter and God Bless America.

  • Sam

    April 12, 2020 at 11:53 am

    A few of these other commentators on this piece are obviously total wackos. This is obviously a “The Buck Stops Here” moment that is coming just in time for trump’s first and only performance evaluation. Voters should pay attention to the big picture and conduct themselves accordingly. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in 2004 so I’m a little worried.

    • For Love Of Country

      April 12, 2020 at 1:46 pm

      Playing it again Sam?: Voters should pay attention to the big picture. They did not when Obama ran and won his second term, after being a failure as President.
      Unfortunately for you and your comrades, Trump will win his second term just as Obama did.

      This article is so full of guesstimates and foolish time frames that it would take me too long to dissect it.

      Mostly, it is an opinionated anti-Trump political attempt to display the President as uncaring, slow moving, and incompetent. All of which is untrue and vicious hate mongering.

      After wasting almost all of the President’s first three years in office, with totally unfounded and made up impeachment and investigaion time, the Democrat Trump haters, are trying a new political tactic…to try to make Trump guilty for a viurs that started in China, was hidden by China, was hidden by the World Health Organization, and was occuring while the Democrats kept the Senate, the media and the administration busy defending itself against one of the many attempts to unseat Pres. Trump.

      This is all the Democrats have left to run on. They have a candidate in Joe Biden, who is incompetent and probably suffers from dimentia. Head to head he would have no chance to beat Donald Trump.

      So, the plan is to keep Biden in hiding as long as possible, and to try to destroy President’s Trump handling of a virus that was unknown to the world’s brightest medical minds. They do this by trying to grab some kind of gotcha moment in time, and pretend that the President was too slow to react. That, after his prompt action to stop planes from China to the U.S. In fact, the Media and much of the left, including Joe Biden, called this move racist and xenophobic.

      Trump is, and has been doing what a leader does during this crisis. The one thing missing from the Democrats are answers.

      Blaming Trump does not answer the question of what to do about solving a health crisis, which is leading to an economic crises.
      Either or both of which, can destroy our Country.

      • Ocean Joe

        April 12, 2020 at 3:18 pm

        OK, I get all the red vs. blue stuff, but when the president of the United States says “I take absolutely no responsibility” how do you justify that? He can be the Herbert Hoover or the FDR of his generation, the stakes are that high, and so far he offers denial instead of leadership. I think we got Hoover 2.0.

        • Lisa Martell

          April 12, 2020 at 8:59 pm

          As I replied to another already, I can’t even say to you that I take your point but respectfully disagree.

          I will refrain from rehashing and fact checking your history lesson.

          I will say this…. Have a seat. I’ve got a lot to say.
          Trump knows that this virus is real and it’s taken him 2 months to “get it”. He did NOT create this virus but not responding timely has cost so many lives and the economy is in ruins.
          This is biblical stuff. The likes of which we have never seen before.
          When the rubber really hits the road in the form of a massive crisis, we expect our President to be a great Crisis Manager. We expect him to embrace and accept the science, military and intelligence officials coming from his own administration. We expect him to seek out the many experts and brightest minds we have here in this country. We expect him to digest their information and advice and we expect him to get out of the Oval, off twitter and away from tv. Go down into the basement with all of the officials, science people, military and intelligence folks, relevant cabinet members and make the Situation Room his new home. This is where policy and game plan should be created. We expect him to use the powers of the Presidency to craft a rational, critically important and urgent game plan and to get moving on it as if lives are at stake. BTW… there lives at stake. A lot of lives.
          In times such as these, I don’t want things denied or shrugged off. I want all of the information no matter how ominous it is. Americans can handle the truth.
          We don’t want a cheerleader. Don’t they jump up and down on the sidelines? To borrow from someone else… WE WANT TOM BRADY. Tell us the good, bad and ugly.We want him to also lift the spirits of the nation. If those skills are not naturally available, we expect him to give it a really good try.

          Who knows how this crisis will play out moving forward. No way to know how long it will take to start recovery from a health and economic perspective.

          But, whether he likes it or not, the President owns this crisis here in our country.
          He had/has the chance to show us the Superman he claims to be.

          So, three things are for sure…
          1) He owns this crisis and bungled response and must own the consequences.
          2) He is no longer running against Joe Biden seeking his second term this November (207 days?). He is now running against the virus.
          3) History will not be kind to him. Forget impeachment. That may be a side note. But the CORONA VIRUS/COVID-19 will get top billing. He will be judged to have been the worst President in our history. At least he’s #1 at something.
          This is his Presidency.

Comments are closed.


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