President Donald Trump has tried to claim that COVID-19 “snuck up” on the United States — even though there were plenty of people warning about it in real time.
One such person was Ronald Klain, who served as the Ebola response coordinator under former President Barack Obama, and who wrote an editorial in The Atlantic this past January that warned Trump was not at all prepared to handle a threat like the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Klain acknowledged at the time that there was no guarantee that the crisis facing China would spill over into the United States, he argued that all of the elements were in place for it to happen — and that such a crisis could be made much worse by Trump’s distrust for career government bureaucrats.
Klain singled out former national security adviser John Bolton’s decision to disband the National Security Council’s pandemic response unit as a worrisome sign of things to come, as it left the NSC rudderless.
“With no one in charge at the White House, there is no authority to resolve disputes between federal agencies; no one to hold agencies accountable for the pace and intensity with which they implement the response; no one to resolve competing requests for congressional funding; and no one to draw on the resources of the security agencies of the government to help support the response,” Klain argued.
Klain’s fears proved prescient, as Trump spent most of February downplaying the threat of the virus, while also spouting off misleading comparison of the disease to the seasonal flu.
And by the time Trump got around to forming a coronavirus task force at the end of the month, he put a political loyalist, Vice President Mike Pence, in charge of running it instead of an expert epidemiologist.
“[Trump] will have to govern, as Democratic and Republican presidents have before him, but unlike how he has conducted himself at any point in his presidency to date,” Klain concluded. “Many lives — mostly abroad, but perhaps here as well — could depend on it.”