'What about Guantánamo?': Here are 5 disturbing bombshells in a new book on Trump's 'rudderless' COVID response
The United States recently passed yet another grim milestone in the 2020/2021 pandemic when Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported that the COVID-19 death count had passed 600,000 in the United States. Nonetheless, there is reason for optimism where the pandemic is concerned. Around 65% of U.S. adults, according to the New York Times, have been at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19, and President Joe Biden — who has been promoting vaccination aggressively — hopes to get that number up to 70% by July 4. Biden obviously takes the pandemic much more than former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly downplayed its severity in 2020.
Trump's dysfunctional response to the worst global health crisis in more than 100 years is the focus of a new book by Washington Port reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta: "Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration's Response to the Pandemic That Changed History," which Post reporter Dan Diamond discusses in detail in an article published on June 21. Here are five bombshells in the book, according to Diamond.
1. Trump wanted to quarantine infected Americans at Guantánamo Bay
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is where is where the Bush Administration kept suspected terrorists following the 9/11 attacks. And it is also where, according to Abutaleb and Paletta, Trump wanted to keep Americans who tested positive for COVID-19. In February 2020, Abutaleb and Paletta report, Trump asked aides, "Don't we have an island that we own? What about Guantánamo?"
2. Kushner had a meltdown after learning about a delay in mask shipments
In late March 2020, according to Abutaleb and Paletta, Robert Kadlec — preparedness chief at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — informed then-White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner that there would be a delay in shipments of protective face masks, which wouldn't be available until June. And Kushner reportedly became unglued, shouting at Kadlec, "You fucking moron! We'll all be dead by June!"
3. Trump feared that COVID-19 testing would cause him to lose the election
In March 2020, the month in which the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic, the United States wasn't doing nearly as much testing as it should have been. But Trump, according to Abutaleb and Paletta, believed the U.S. was doing too much — and his reason was entirely political. Trump, during a March 18, 2020 phone conversation with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, reportedly shouted, "Testing is killing me! I'm going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?"
4. No one knew exactly who was in charge of Trump's COVID-19 response
Trump had two separate COVID-19 task forces in 2020: a White House task force led by then-Vice President Mike Pence, and a task force led by Kushner that focused on private sector efforts in response to the pandemic. According to Abutaleb and Paletta, the Trump Administration's COVID-19 response was so chaotic that it was hard to know who exactly was in charge.
In their book, Abutaleb and Paletta, "One of the biggest flaws in the Trump Administration's response is that no one was in charge of the response. Was it (Dr. Deborah) Birx, the task force coordinator? Was it Pence, head of the task force? Was it Trump, the boss? Was it Kushner, running the shadow task force until he wasn't? Was it Marc Short or Mark Meadows, often at odds, rarely in sync? Ultimately, there was no accountability, and the response was rudderless."
5. Mark Meadows berated a top HHS official
After former Rep. Mark Meadows replaced Mick Mulvaney as White House chief of staff, he became — according to Abutaleb and Paletta — a source of misery for Kadlec. When there was a delay with the rollout of remdesivir (a drug used to treat COVID-19), Meadows reportedly screamed at Kadlec, "I'm going to fire your ass if you can't fix this." According to Abutaleb and Paletta, "That was what the response had turned into: a toxic environment in which no matter where you turned, someone was ready to rip your head off or threatening to fire you."
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