President Donald Trump on Friday attempted to shift the blame for his heavily criticized response to the spread of COVID-19 to former President Barack Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency which his administration has overseen for more than three years.
Responding to reports that the U.S. has by far the lowest rate of testing among virtually every developed country, Trump claimed that the delays were caused by problems which he has now fixed.
"For decades the [CDC] looked at, and studied, its testing system, but did nothing about it. It would always be inadequate and slow for a large scale pandemic, but a pandemic would never happen, they hoped," Trump tweeted. "President Obama made changes that only complicated things further. Their response to H1N1 Swine Flu was a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now. The changes have been made and testing will soon happen on a very large scale basis. All Red Tape has been cut, ready to go!"
Trump did not back up his allegation that Obama "complicated things further" with any supporting evident, but he previously falsely claimed that his predecessor's administration made changes to the way the Food and Drug Administration approved tests. That claim is categorically false, because a discussed policy never went into effect.
Former Obama aides also pointed out that 1 million people were tested for H1N1 within a month of the first case. The Obama administration acted months before the World Health Organization declared H1N1 a pandemic. By comparison, there have been fewer than 15,000 COVID-19 tests performed in the U.S., according to the CDC. Other countries like South Korea are testing up to 20,000 people each day. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the slow testing rollout a "failing" Thursday.
Though the president was eager to try to shift the blame, former Obama aides also pointed out that it was Trump who disbanded the White House pandemic team in 2018.
"We worked very well with that office," Fauci told Congress on Wednesday. "It would be nice if the office was still there."
Trump previously tried to score political points by blaming former Vice President Joe Biden, alleging that his response to the H1N1 epidemic was "one of the worst on record."
"Our response is one of the best, with fast action of border closings & a 78% Approval Rating, the highest on record," Trump falsely claimed Thursday. "His was lowest!"
Obama and Biden declared a public health emergency after there were just 20 confirmed cases of H1N1. By comparison, there are at least 1,660 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. (though experts believe there could be thousands more) and at least 41 deaths.
Trump's claim about the poll was also inaccurate.
"Trump does not have a '78% approval rating' over coronavirus. A Feb. Gallup poll that did not specifically ask about Trump, and was taken well before the first US death, found 77% had confidence in the 'federal government' to handle a coronavirus outbreak," CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale tweeted. "Polls asking specifically about Trump's handling of the outbreak have given him ratings much lower than 78%."
In fact, reports have tied delays in testing directly to Trump.
"[Trump] did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that's partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak. And the president had made clear — the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential re-election this fall," Politico's Dan Diamond said.
Trump has also ignored calls to declare a public health emergency even though the heads of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association have urged the administration against doing so.
"There's no deadline for a decision, but one of the people familiar with the talks said the task force will not give Trump its final verdict until Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son-in-law, finishes his research and comes to a conclusion himself," Politico reported Wednesday.
Who is helping Kushner with his research? The Spectator reports that Kurt Kloss, the father of Kushner's supermodel sister-in-law Karlie Kloss, asked a Facebook group to assist the president's top adviser with information about the virus.
"If you were in charge of Federal response to the Pandemic what would your recommendation be," wrote Kloss, who is a doctor. "Please only serious responses. I have direct channel to person now in charge at White House and have been asked for recommendations."
Bloomberg News reported Friday that Trump now "plans" to declare a public health emergency soon.
Though Trump had tried to avoid an emergency declaration and has repeatedly sought to downplay the risks posed by the virus, administration sources have said the president is "concerned about all the people he met who have" tested positive.
Along with meeting several Republican lawmakers exposed to COVID-19 at CPAC, Trump recently met with a Brazilian official in Mar-a-Lago who later tested positive for the virus. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was tested for the virus Thursday, but Trump said he is "not concerned" about potential exposure and was not tested.
An Australian official who met with Ivanka Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr last week also tested positive this week.
Despite the number of cases continuing to rise across the country, Trump and Republican lawmakers have delayed a coronavirus relief bill offered by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., over concerns about paid sick leave and a demand that the bill include anti-abortion language.
The pandemic has not affected the Trump administration's posture on policy at all even as sports leagues shut down and numerous states banned large public gatherings and shuttered schools.
Trump's budget director told Congress on the administration still backs its proposal to cut CDC funding by 15%.
The administration has also prevented states from using Medicaid to help fight the pandemic. The Obama administration and the Bush administration allowed states to grant waivers to allow citizens to quickly enroll into Medicaid, but the Trump administration has not yet done so.
"If they wanted to do it, they could do it," former Medicaid administrator Cindy Mann told The Los Angeles Times.
The administration also plans to go forward with its plan to kick about 700,000 people off of food stamps despite the crisis, BuzzFeed News reported.
After weeks of delays, the administration finally announced Friday that the FDA will speed up the availability of COVID-19 tests, though experts predict that will change little since so many cases of the virus went undetected for months.
Harvard global health professor Dr. Ashish Jha told MSNBC on Thursday that the US response to the pandemic has thus far been "among the very worst in the world." Jha said the testing failure made it "really hard to get a grip on how many people actually have the infection, where the infections are, how widespread it is and what we can do to respond to it."
"I see this as just a catastrophic failure," he added, "on the part of the federal government and the federal leadership."