Donald Trump’s absolving of guilt has been the theme of his presidency and him shifting the blame of his administration’s testing of the COVID-19 coronavirus on Barack Obama is no surprise. Trump stated that the former president’s decision on testing the virus was “detrimental.” However, Obama seemingly responded to the blame game antics, advising folks to “listen to the experts.”
“The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing and we undid that decision a few days ago so that testing can take place in a much more accurate and rapid fashion,” Trump said during a press conference at the White House. He added, “That was a very big move. It was something we had to do and we did it very quickly. And now we have tremendous flexibility, many many more sites, many many more people, and you couldn’t have had that under the Obama rule and we ended that rule very quickly.”
While it isn’t clear if Obama was shading Trump, the assumption alone offered some folks comfort. “Protect yourself and your community from coronavirus with common sense precautions: wash your hands, stay home when sick and listen to the @CDCgov and local health authorities. Save the masks for health care workers. Let’s stay calm, listen to the experts, and follow the science,” he tweeted.
For reference, during Obama’s presidency in 2014, he implemented safety measures amid the breakout of the Ebola virus. His administration “set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the White House National Security Council (NSC) and another in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—both of which followed the scientific and public health leads of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the diplomatic advice of the State Department,” according to Foreign Policy.
Additionally, Obama appointed former vice-presidential staffer Ronald Klain as the “Ebola Czar” to coordinate the government’s response to the virus.
However, in 2018 Trump pushed for Congress to cut funding for the disease security programs Obama previously put in place. Not only did Trump drop a proposal to eliminate Ebola funding, but there was also a $15 billion reduction in “national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS,” according to the report.
In May of 2018, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council, who was responsible for pandemic response and global health security, abruptly departed the White House with no replacement. Ziemer’s departure occurred at a time when experts asserted that the U.S. was “already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic or bioterrorism attack,” according to The Washington Post.
“That was a very big move,” Trump also said. “It was something we had to do and we did it very quickly. And now we have tremendous flexibility, many many more sites, many many more people, and you couldn’t have had that under the Obama rule and we ended that rule very quickly.”
To no surprise, it is unclear which “rule” Trump is referring to. According to The New York Times, health experts and seasoned government employees during Obama’s presidency said “they were unaware of any policy or rule changes during the last administration that would have affected the way the Food and Drug Administration approved tests during the current crisis.”
Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump passed off the responsibility of handling the coronavirus, echoed the president’s sentiment during the press conference.
“The last administration asserted FDA jurisdiction over testing, and the development of tests like this,” Pence said. “The president changed that on Saturday … states now have the ability to actually conduct the coronavirus test in state labs, university laboratories, and that’s because of the change the president authorized.”
The rule(s) that Obama implemented, which adversely affected the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus appear to be unfounded. However, what is known is that the White House disassembled the safety measures that were already put in place that could have significantly aided in the U.S.’s response to the virus.