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“What Idiot” Ordered Testing? Trump’s Coronavirus Response Was Much, Much Worse Than We Knew

As disorganized, ineffectual and, ultimately, deadly as you may have thought former president Donald Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was, it was truly much, much worse. That’s the main takeaway from a new book by two Washington Post journalists.

Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta offers fresh, frightening insights into how Trump bounced between embracing miracle cures for the disease, grappling with his own COVID-19 illness – which was much more serious than officials acknowledged at the time – and worrying about how the pandemic would affect his reelection chances. The book also reveals just how much Trump’s response was poisoned at almost every turn by political infighting among aides.

Some of the statements by Trump, according to the book, demonstrate how absolutely uninformed he is about the United States as a sovereign country and how the only lens through which he saw the pandemic was how it would affect his reelection. For example, in the early days of the pandemic White House officials debated whether to bring infected Americans home for care, President Donald Trump suggested his own plan for where to send them, just so that the number of infections on U.S. soil did not increase.

“Don’t we have an island that we own?” the president reportedly asked those assembled in the Situation Room in February 2020, before the U.S. outbreak would explode. “What about Guant√°namo?”

“We import goods,” Trump specified, lecturing his staff. “We are not going to import a virus.”

Aides reportedly were stunned. When Trump brought it up a second time, they quickly shot down the idea of quarantining COVID-19-positive American tourists on the same base in Cuba where the United States holds terrorism suspects.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Another sign of the Trump administration’s ineptitude revealed by the book took place on March 18. By then it was clear the United States had no idea how far and wide the virus had spread throughout the population. In a phone call with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Trump reportedly yelled, “Testing is killing me!” so loudly that Azar’s aides overheard every word. “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”

“Uh, do you mean Jared?” Azar responded, citing the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Just five days earlier, Kushner had vowed to take charge of a national testing strategy with the help of the private sector.

Another section of the book reveals the fierceness of the political infighting about White House response. In late March, Health and Human Services official Robert Kadlec went to Kushner and told him that the 600 million masks that he had purchased would not arrive until June. Kushner exploded in anger, throwing his pen against the wall and berating Kadlec.

“You f—ing moron,” Kushner reportedly said. “We’ll all be dead by June.”



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