President Barack Obama’s former “ebola czar” debunked claims that the previous administration left the U.S. unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic that has left more than 86,000 Americans dead.
Ron Klain, who coordinated Obama’s response to the ebola outbreak, appeared Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” where he pushed back against accusations by President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who say Obama’s administration failed to create a pandemic response.
“We left behind a document that said, in big red letters on the front, ‘Playbook,'” Klain said. “No doubt it was there — 69 pages long, included on Page 9 a reference to the threat of new, emerging respiratory diseases, including coronavirus. So the plan was there. The plan was detailed, the plan included this particular threat. More important perhaps even than the plan, we left behind an office on pandemic preparedness in the National Security Council, with pandemic preparedness experts that John Bolton disassembled in 2018.”
“We had a plan and a team,” he added. “The White House ignored the first and disassembled the second.”
Trump should have been aware of the threat from a global pandemic, Klain said, because previous administrations have been sounding the alarm and developing strategies since the beginning of this century.
“Look, this is a threat,” Klain said. “I mean, experts have been warning about this. We know in addition to what President Obama and our team warned President Trump of, he had an Oval Office meeting with Bill Gates in 2017, where Bill Gates said, face-to-face, ‘Hey, this is the No. 1 thing that could kill millions of people around the world in an extra way that you need to be prepared for.'”
“The warning lights have been flashing on this for a long time,” Klain added. “The White House, for the first few months, said, ‘No one could have seen this coming,’ yet every expert saw this coming. Dr. [Ashish] Jha, who you had on in the last segment, I’ve been at a number of conferences with him, where he and I warned this was coming. The president was on notice, his team was on notice. The decision to ignore the Obama playbook and disband the pandemic prevention team has had ramifications for the slowness of the response, the disorganization of the response, for the ignoring science in the response. All of these things were predictable mistakes, that ignoring the plan and preparations have led to.”
Klain said the president still hasn’t learned any lessons from this pandemic, because he’s still ignoring science and failing to take the most basic steps to ensure public health.
“Public health and the economy aren’t at odds with one another,” Klain said. “They work hand in hand. The more you do things to make me feel safer, the more I’m going to go back to work, the more I’m going to go back to stores, the more I’ll go back to restaurants. Trying to tell me that there’s nothing to worry about, that’s not a strategy. It’s not going to work. The American people are going to see through that. So we have to do these basic, simple things, that the president seems to want to reject. Every expert says they’re the things to do.”