In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) rebukes President Donald J. Trump’s “bungled” response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hogan focuses on Trump’s unfulfilled promises of a national testing strategy and on how he eventually had to purchase an initial testing stockpile from South Korea, thanks to the assistance of his wife Yumi, who is Korean-American and had some diplomatic connections in South Korea.
- Hogan notes that Trump’s “first public utterance about the coronavirus set the tone for everything that followed.” On January 22, Trump said, “We have it totally under control.
- Hogan asserts that “so many nationwide actions could have been taken in those early days but weren’t.” While other nations raced ahead with coordinated testing strategies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tests turned out to be inaccurate, and Trump’s Food and Drug Administration had yet to deregulate private lab development.
- Hogan also accuses Trump of “talking and tweeting like a man more concerned about boosting the stock market or his reelection plans” instead of spending time “listening to his own public health experts.”
- As chair of the National Governors Association, Hogan organized a governors-only briefing at their national retreat, bringing in Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control.
- Hogan writes, “It was jarring, the huge contrast between the experts’ warnings and the president’s public dismissals. Weren’t these the people the White House was consulting about the virus?”
- Thus, Hogan explains, governors began to take the virus seriously while Trump continued his inaction.
Hogan digresses briefly to describe Trump’s remarks at a private dinner sponsored by the Republican Governors Association. Hogan writes,
Backstage beforehand, I said hello to him. We took a photo together. He was perfectly cordial, even though we’d criticized each other in the past. Then he came out and gave one of his unscripted rally speeches that seemed to go on at least an hour too long. I don’t remember him mentioning the virus, but he talked about how much he respected President Xi Jinping of China; how much he liked playing golf with his buddy “Shinzo,” Prime Minister Abe of Japan; how well he got along with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Then, the jarring part: Trump said he really didn’t like dealing with President Moon from South Korea. The South Koreans were “terrible people,” he said, and he didn’t know why the United States had been protecting them all these years. “They don’t pay us,” Trump complained.
Yumi, [Hogan’s South Korean-American wife,] was sitting there as the president hurled insults at her birthplace. I could tell she was hurt and upset. I know she wanted to walk out. But she sat there politely and silently.
The very next day, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Lee Soo-hyuck, hosted a reception at his residence for the governors and their spouses. President Moon Jae-in even delivered a message via video, thanking the governors for America’s special relationship with Korea and expressing pride in Yumi Hogan’s historic role as the first Korean-American First Lady in the United States.
- From here, Hogan goes on to describe Trump’s national testing strategy. Although he avowed that “anybody” could get a test, his “all over the place” response left governors “desperately pleading for help on testing.”
- Hogan criticizes Trump for shifting blame to Barack Obama’s administration, even though Trump’s Centers for Disease Control had designed the problematic American testing system.
- And Hogan expresses disbelief at what he calls Trump’s “boasting” about “doing more testing than anybody by far” and then in March claiming that he hadn’t “heard about testing for weeks,” declaring the problem solved.
Hogan explains that behind the scenes, “As Trump was making these comments, I was requesting his approval to conduct joint testing at the National Institutes of Health.”
I even called Francis Collins, the head of NIH, to make this request, but he stopped me before I could. Not to argue but to plead: “Actually, Governor,” he said, “I’m glad you called, because I was going to ask you for help.” At NIH headquarters, he explained, his people had the capacity to perform only 72 tests a day. “I don’t even have enough tests for my immune-compromised patients or for my staff,” he said. He wondered if I might prevail upon Johns Hopkins, whose Suburban Hospital is across the street from NIH, to do some testing for him.
I could only shake my head at that. The federal government—a much bigger and better-funded institution, with tens of thousands of scientists and physicians in the civil service—wanted my help! Governors always do the hard work, make the tough decisions and take the political heat. But an undertaking as large as a national testing program required Washington’s help. We expected something more than constant heckling from the man who was supposed to be our leader.
- Hogan goes on to write that after this, “Trump soon disabused us of that expectation” by declaring on April 6 that “States do their own testing.” Hogan writes, “it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation’s response was hopeless.”
- Taking Maryland’s fate into his own hands, Hogan chose to do “something dramatic”: he and his wife Yumi called on Lee, the South Korean Ambassador, for South Korea’s assistance.
- Hogan explains that after “dozens and dozens of phone calls” and help from “Moon’s team” to cut through “miles of bureaucratic red tape,” they managed to arrange a $9 million sale of half a million tests from South Korea to Maryland.
- “It was a bargain considering the $2.8 billion in revenue we projected the pandemic would cost Maryland,” Hogan explains.
- When the testing kits arrived from South Korea, Hogan explains that he was at least relieved that Maryland had some tools to identify the scope of the outbreak.
- Hogan “thought we might get a congratulatory word from the president,” but instead Trump “spent much of the following Monday’s White House briefing criticizing me and dismissing what we had done,” claiming that Hogan should have contacted Vice President Mike Pence to get tests.
Pence did call Hogan a few days later. At the end of the call, Hogan says that he tried to be lighthearted with Pence:
At the end of the call, I jokingly said: “By the way, the president said that instead of working with South Korea, I should have just called you to get tests. If I had known it was that easy, I could have saved a heck of a lot of effort!” He chuckled, but there wasn’t much else to say.