Trump Admin Shoots The Messenger As Whistleblower Highlights Ongoing Issues

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May 14, 2020 5:58 p.m.
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Dr. Rick Bright, who became a whistleblower after being demoted from his job directing a crucial government research office, was clear during his testimony before a House subcomittee on Thursday: The Trump administration’s lacking response to the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a past-tense story. The failures continue.

There is still no government-wide plan for filling shortages in personal protective equipment, Bright testified to the House health subcommittee. Drug and vaccine supply chains need to be ramped up. And our comprehensive nationwide testing strategy is non-existent.

Before warning that a shortage of supplies like syringes could be catastrophic if not addressed in time for the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Bright noted he’d learned that the government “placed their first order for needles and syringes on May 1, and another order was placed today.”

That comes despite Bright’s claim in his whistleblower complaint that White House and Health department officials were informed of the need for syringes as early as mid-February — three months ago.

The Trump administration has pursued a rather blunt response: Shooting the messenger. In a tweet ahead of Bright’s testimony, the President said Bright was “a disgruntled employee, not liked or respected by people I spoke to.”

With Bright’s attitude, Trump said, he “should no longer be working for our government!” Perhaps no one told the President that Bright still is working for the government — he was demoted from his job directing BARDA, Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority, to a post at the National Institutes of Health.

The Department of Health and Human Services similarly went after the vaccine specialist. In a statement, the department said Bright was “using his taxpayer-funded medical leave to work with partisan attorneys who are politicizing the response to COVID-19.” Bright confirmed Thursday that he was dealing with hypertension related to the stress of being suddenly and quite publicly fired.

Health Secretary Alex Azar, speaking from the White House lawn in the middle of Bright’s testimony, made a similar point. “While we’re launching Operation Warp Speed, he’s not showing up for work to be part of that,” Azar said, referring to a new vaccine initiative.

For good measure, Azar threw in some all-purpose praise of the President: “Every single thing, this president was on, this president achieved.”

The President has not achieved “every single thing,” as the glowing gaps in the United States’ COVID-19 response show: Testing and shortages remain, effective therapies and vaccines are far from achieved, and it took until Thursday for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release edited guidelines on “reopening” various institutions — weeks after White House officials nixed a more in-depth version that has yet to see the light of day.

Government experts like Bright, meanwhile, face ongoing political interference. Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, testified Wednesday that universities and grade schools would need a cautious, regional approach if they plan on reopening in the fall. He said separately that seeking to lift public health orders on businesses and other institutions could result in a “resurgence.”

“He wants to play all sides of the equation,” Trump told reporters Thursday, adding later: “To me it’s not an acceptable answer.”

The problem with viruses, as Fauci and others know, is they care little about what is acceptable to Trump.

Here’s what else we were watching this week:

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

TPM’s COVID-19 hub.
Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.
COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).
Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).
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