Scientist: Trump Destroyed Obama’s Pandemic Response Team Out Of Spite

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian/Public Domain


The Obama-era pandemic response framework was not costly, Laurie Garrett said, but President Trump cut it anyway.

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman spoke with Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, last month as the coronavirus epidemic was gaining steam in the United States to discuss the Trump administration’s response to the crisis.

Garrett offered a grim view of the overall situation and explained how President Donald Trump’s decision to dismantle his predecessor’s pandemic response team only complicated the government’s ability to respond to the coronavirus in a timely and orderly manner.

“Where we are right now is that everybody is recognizing, oops, it was a big mistake by the Trump administration to obliterate the entire infrastructure of pandemic response that the Obama administration had created,” Garrett said. “Why did he do it? Well, it certainly wasn’t about the money, because it wasn’t a heavily funded program. It was certainly because it was Obama’s program.”

She went on to explain how wide-ranging that infrastructure was and how it would have helped in unifying the government’s response to any epidemic.

“It was a special division inside the National Security Council, a special division inside of the Department of Homeland Security,” Garrett said, with “collaborating centers in [Department of Health and Human Services], headquarters in Washington, the Office of Global Health Affairs, and the Commerce Department, Treasury Department.”

What President Barack Obama learned during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, she said, “is that any American response had to be an all-of-government response, that there were so many agencies overlapping, and they all had a little piece of the puzzle in the case of a pandemic.”

Garrett pointed to China’s response to the coronavirus in Wuhan, where the government sent convoys of hundreds of trucks filled with food, and asked whether the U.S. could quickly deploy such measures if necessary.

“[O]ur Department of Commerce, our Department of Transportation and our department of USDA would have to collaborate to get food deliveries all over America so that parts of America don’t starve,” she said. “Do we have the capacity to coordinate that?”

Obama’s setup was meant to facilitate such inter-agency cooperation.

“What the Obama administration realized was that you can’t corral multiple agencies and things from private sector as well as public sector to come to the aid of America, unless you have some one person in charge who’s really the manager of it all,” Garrett explained. “And in his case, it was Ron Klain, who had worked under Vice President Biden. And he was designated, with an office inside the White House, to give orders and coordinate all these various things.”

While Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to head his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, he has undone the underlying framework to make a unified response possible, Garrett said.

“It’s gone. And now they’re hastily trying to recreate something.”

Read the full interview.

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