Trump refuses to promise his own company won't get a taxpayer bailout: "Let's just see what happens"

“We're not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family," Sen. Elizabeth Warren says

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published March 23, 2020 11:37AM (EDT)

Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump; Donald Trump (AP/Evan Vucci)
Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump; Donald Trump (AP/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump declined to say whether his company would seek federal assistance from a proposed bailout fund, which Democrats decried as a "slush fund."

"I've learned, let's just see what happens," Trump told reporters at a Sunday news briefing when asked about the Trump Organization. "Because we have to save some of these great companies."

The comments came after Democrats balked at a $1.8 trillion stimulus bill to counter the economic calamity sparked by the coronavirus crisis. Senate Democrats blocked the bill from moving forward Sunday after calling for Republicans to guarantee that corporations would retain their workers before dipping into a $500 billion bailout fund, $425 billion of which would be distributed at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The bill would also provide direct payments to most Americans and additional funds for states, hospitals, small businesses and unemployment insurance.

"We're not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement.

"We're going to give $500 billion in basically a slush fund to help industries controlled by Mnuchin with very little transparency? Is that what we ought to be doing?" Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked 

When questioned about whether he would commit publicly that his company would not seek federal bailout funds, Trump complained that being president had "cost me billions of dollars."

"I committed publicly that I wouldn't take the $450,000 salary," he said. "It's a lot of money. Whether you're rich or not, it's a lot of money, and I did it. Nobody cared. Nobody said, 'Thank you.'"

Reporters also cited a number of senators who sold stock after a private coronavirus briefing before the market plummeted and asked Trump whether he had sold any stock.

Trump complained that it was a "nasty question" before insisting, "I don't own stock. I own things."

The president also seemed to mock the news that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, had self-isolated after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., exposed numerous senators to the coronavirus.

"Romney's in isolation?" Trump asked. "Gee, that's too bad."

Romney announced that he would self-quarantine after Paul tested positive for COVID-19. Paul reportedly went to the gym with colleagues on Sunday despite being tested for the virus, leading Romney and fellow Utah Republican Mike Lee to self-isolate.

"This, America, is absolutely irresponsible," Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., tweeted in response to the report. "You cannot be near other people while waiting for coronavirus test results. It endangers others & likely increases the spread of the virus."

All three senators were absent when the Senate deadlocked 47-47 on the Republican bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the two sides were so far apart that House Democrats would write their own bill. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., continues to negotiate with Mnuchin.

Even as the virus impacted members of Trump's own party, the president suggested Sunday that he may lift restrictions to combat the coronavirus in order to boost the economy, possibly in response to a Fox News segment on the topic that aired Sunday night.

"WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!" Trump tweeted, echoing pundits and lawmakers that have effectively called for letting people die in order to save the economy.

Trump's comments came on the same day that Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

"I want America to understand: This week, it's going to get bad," he told NBC News. "We don't want Dallas, or New Orleans, or Chicago to turn into the next New York, and it means that everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now. And that means: Stay at home."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, complained in an interview with Science magazine that it has been a challenge to get Trump to listen to medical experts and stop espousing incorrect information at his briefings.

"I can't jump in front of the microphone and push him down," Fauci said.

Officials have also increasingly complained that Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which allows the government to force companies to produce necessary equipment during a crisis, but refused to use it.

Though Trump has bragged that companies like Apple, General Motors and Hanes have offered to help with the production of vital equipment such as masks and ventilators, the process could take months and has sparked "widespread confusion about how much and what exactly each firm is supposed to produce," The New York Times reported.

Trump's hesitance came after the Times reported that adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has "thrown out the established government plan for dealing with pandemics" after deeming it

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said states have been forced to bid against each other for the crucial equipment, leaving some states unable to acquire it and raising prices across the board.

Cuomo, who said the virus could infect up to 80% of New Yorkers and last for nine months or more, added that no state could manage the process without federal oversight.

"The federal government should nationalize medical supply acquisition. The states simply cannot manage it," Cuomo said. "That's why I believe the federal government should take over that function of contracting and acquiring all of the medical supplies that we need."

He said "price gouging" by companies has put states into an "impossible" situations.

"We can lose lives that we could have otherwise saved if we had the right equipment," he added.

The sentiment was echoed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"If we don't get more ventilators in the next 10 days, people will die," he told CNN. "I can't be blunt enough. If the president does not act, people will die who could have lived otherwise."

Trump has complained about governors that criticize him, hitting out at Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker for "blaming the federal government" for his "own shortcomings."

Pritzker responded by urging Trump to "get off Twitter & do your job."

"You wasted precious months when you could've taken action to protect Americans & Illinoisans," he tweeted. "You should be leading a national response instead of throwing tantrums from the back seat. Where were the tests when we needed them? Where's the PPE [Personal Protective Equipment]?"

Pritzker was alluding to reports that the federal government studied potential pandemics such as the coronavirus, but recommendations to shore up defenses were ignored. U.S. intelligence agencies also warned Trump in January and February about the threat of the coronavirus, but Trump instead focused on reassuring the markets by downplaying the looming pandemic, The Washington Post reported.

Reuters reported Sunday that the Trump administration eliminated a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention position in China intended to help detect disease outbreaks in the region shortly before the outbreak began. The administration also previously axed the National Security Council pandemic team and sought large cuts to the CDC.

Trump has insisted that he does not "take responsibility at all" for his administration's bungled response to the crisis, complaining that he was the real victim Sunday.

"I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost," the president tweeted. "Don't they understand that they are destroying themselves?"

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Coronavirus Corruption Covid-19 Donald Trump Jared Kushner Politics Steven Mnuchin