Trump's turn to the economy leaves a vacuum when it comes to controlling the pandemic

President Donald Trump announces "Operation Warp Speed," a program to develop a coronavirus vaccine, during a press conference in the Rose Garden.

Posted: May 15, 2020 10:33 AM
Updated: May 17, 2020 4:00 AM


Publicly and privately, Sen. Angus King spent weeks seeking a national coronavirus testing plan. Sen. Lamar Alexander held a hearing where President Donald Trump's testing czar Brett Giroir acknowledged his efforts remain 'a work in progress.'

Trump has brushed off all three -- a Democratic-aligned independent from Maine, a Republican from Tennessee, an admiral he appointed. He calls testing 'overrated' while asserting, nonsensically, that more tests merely inflate the number of coronavirus cases.

'An astonishing failure of competent leadership,' King concluded in an interview with CNN. And it's one that demonstrates a jarring reality of America's fight against the global pandemic.

After briefly embracing the role of 'wartime President,' Trump has all but quit the battlefield in favor of cheerleading for economic revival. In the absence of reliable White House leadership, a haphazard combination of federal, state and private sector efforts has gradually boosted testing levels even without a national plan.

The decline in the proportion of positive tests points toward an ebb-tide for the pandemic nationally. Yet public health officials warn that the commander-in-chief's retreat on halting the virus now threatens to slow or reverse progress that the painful stay-at-home measures and economic shutdown have bought. The British medical journal The Lancet denounced the Trump administration as 'obsessed with magic bullets' such as vaccines, while remaining 'nowhere near' the level of testing the fight requires.

Meantime, Trump is dangling promises of a broadly-available vaccine by year-end -- a prospect that public health experts consider unlikely. He's ignored broad safety guidelines he offered for reopening the economy just a month ago, and praised armed protesters demanding that governors drop restrictions. And he withheld detailed guidance for businesses and schools on re-opening prudently, limiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to offering a cursory six-page collection of 'decision trees.'

The President also curbed the visibility of top public health officials by ending daily coronavirus task force briefings. He picked a public fight with renowned infectious disease authority Anthony Fauci, whose caution conflicts with Trump's zeal for accelerated economic activity.

He muted his support for helping state and local governments on the front lines of the pandemic. As his appointed Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell implored the White House and Congress to keep thinking big on fiscal relief, Trump cautioned against state-level profligacy and linked emergency relief to unrelated ideological goals on immigration and taxes.

A pattern of downplaying threats

Better-suited for salesmanship than policy-making, Trump has minimized the battle from the start. He downplayed the coronavirus threat to avoid disturbing election-year economic growth.

Once he could no longer avoid it, the President followed rather than led -- and stumbled.

In February, Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike spurned his request for emergency coronavirus spending as inadequate. They tripled it.

In March, Trump falsely asserted that any American could obtain a coronavirus test. That remains untrue even now.

Desperate for good news, Trump began touting the unproven healing power of hydroxychloroquine. Subsequent research found the anti-malaria drug a lethal threat to some coronavirus patients.

Trump's decisive embarrassment came at the coronavirus task force briefing on April 23, when he suggested that injections of household disinfectant might become a cure. The White House halted daily briefings soon thereafter.

On initial coronavirus relief legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi negotiated with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin without even talking to Trump. In recent days, as she and fellow Democrats prepared the new $3 trillion bill including state and local government aid, she acted as if the President didn't matter at all.

'Don't waste your time or mine on what he says,' Pelosi told a C-SPAN interviewer. House passage of the bill on Friday evening marked the potential opening of fresh negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate over a fourth relief package.

Focusing on enemies rather than threats

On Twitter, Trump devotes less attention to the pandemic than to punching political enemies. At a White House press conference last week, he signaled how casually he takes his responsibilities on fighting the virus.

Days after a Trump valet and Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary tested positive, a White House memo requiring mask-wearing inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was enacted to limit further spread. A reporter asked Trump if he had ordered it.

'Yeah, I did. I did. I required it. Yes,' the President replied. But he hasn't been seen wearing a mask yet.

On a conference call the same day, Pence urged governors to test all residents of nursing homes - a locus of infections nationwide. A journalist asked Trump if he would require that.

'I will mandate it, if you'd like,' the President responded. He has not.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 578946

Reported Deaths: 10523
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2108744999
Riverside41983820
Orange40527724
San Bernardino36072546
San Diego32975594
Kern24995183
Fresno17846171
San Joaquin13870235
Alameda13631205
Santa Clara12962207
Sacramento12274179
Tulare11549198
Stanislaus10264169
Imperial9867244
Contra Costa9787146
Ventura874093
San Francisco769267
Santa Barbara699672
San Mateo6431122
Merced573670
Monterey549437
Marin540481
Kings445356
Solano427441
Sonoma375350
Madera246339
Placer237724
San Luis Obispo227817
Yolo183444
Santa Cruz12876
Butte12388
Napa112911
Sutter9967
San Benito7654
El Dorado7552
Lassen6830
Yuba6664
Mendocino47210
Shasta46910
Glenn4363
Colusa3965
Nevada3571
Tehama3031
Humboldt2864
Lake2402
Amador1853
Mono1581
Tuolumne1552
Calaveras1471
Inyo1063
Siskiyou1020
Del Norte1000
Mariposa622
Plumas360
Modoc50
Trinity50
Sierra40
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Chico
Few Clouds
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Hi: 97° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 90°
Oroville
Clear
94° wxIcon
Hi: 98° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 94°
Paradise
Few Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 90°
Chester
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 84°
Red Bluff
Clear
91° wxIcon
Hi: 97° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 91°
Willows
Few Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 101° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 90°
Warm temperatures and a Red Flag Warning for high fire danger are ahead for our region today. The heat ramps up this weekend and that will prompt an Excessive Heat Watch for the valley and foothills.
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