The Bucks Stops Over There Somewhere: Trump Refuses To Own COVID-19 Failures

WASHINGTON, DC, USA - MARCH 13: US President Donald J. Trump declares a national emergency due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, DC, United States on March 13... WASHINGTON, DC, USA - MARCH 13: US President Donald J. Trump declares a national emergency due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, DC, United States on March 13, 2020. The president is allowing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to waive legal provisions to free up doctors, hospital and healthcare providers as they seek to combat the virus on the ground. And he further waived interest on federally-held student loans in an effort to free up individual funds. (Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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It’s not my fault!

That was the line from the President of the United States Friday, pressed twice on his leadership in the government’s tumultuous and politicized response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump belatedly declared the pandemic a national emergency at a Rose Garden event Friday, but when he began taking questions from reporters after his remarks, it was clear he did not believe the buck stopped with him.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump told NBC’s Kristen Welker, after Welker asked about the top U.S. infectious disease expert calling testing capacity “a failing.”

“We were given a set of circumstances, and we were given rules, regulations and specifications from a different time,” Trump added.

He seemed to be referring to the “Emergency Use Authorization” procedure that has slowed FDA approval of testing capacity at a local and national scale.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn lifted regulatory barriers of academic and research labs to do their own testing on Feb. 29, and the FDA on Friday further approved large-scale automated testing by the diagnostics company Roche. The government also announced that it was allowing New York state to approve its own local testing vendors, after intense pressure from the state.

But nothing explains the weeks-long delay from the administration to implement these measures after the CDC’s initial testing regimen proved inadequate in February.

“There’s been a lot of disorganization and lack of coordination on the federal level for quite some time,” Rachel Sachs, a professor of health law and food and drug regulation at the University of Washington in St. Louis, told TPM last week.

Trump then attacked the PBS Newshour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor for asking about the elimination of the White House National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.

“The officials that worked in that office said that the White House lost valuable time because that office was disbanded,” Alcindor said. “What do you make of that?”

“I just think it’s a nasty question,” Trump responded, before praising himself for unrelated actions he’d taken on the novel coronavirus.

“And when you say ‘me,’ I didn’t do it,” Trump said. “We have a group of people.”

He swiveled to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who shrugged his shoulders.

In fact, Fauci said during congressional testimony two days ago that it “would be nice” if the White House hadn’t eliminated the NSC global health unit.

The NSC group, which was focused on public health from a national security standpoint, was dissolved in 2018 under then-National Security Adviser John Bolton’s tenure.

When Alcindor pressed Trump on the group’s elimination — “You don’t know anything about the reorganization?” — Trump shrugged off the question.

“You say we did that, I don’t know anything about it. … It’s the administration, perhaps they did that, you know,” Trump said. “People let people go.”

“You used to be with a different newspaper than you are now, you know, things like that happened,” he added, to Alcindor.

“We’re going a great job,” Trump said, ignoring Alcindor’s follow-up

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