People For the American Way

Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (12/18 Update)

News and Analysis
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (12/18 Update)

This week, the United States continued to hit one dangerous record high after another, with the country passing 300,000 deaths due to COVID-19. That toll is roughly the equivalent of losing the entire population of Pittsburgh or St. Louis.

From day one, Donald Trump, his administration, and his Republican allies in Congress have minimized or ignored the crisis. Their negligence continues to exacerbate the pandemic’s devastating impact on our country. This week was no different.

  • On December 16, Politico reported that a Trump appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) badgered top officials to adopt a “herd immunity” approach in the U.S. In emails written in July, former HHS science advisor Paul Alexander argued that millions of Americans should be infected with the virus, writing to his boss, HHS assistant secretary Michael Caputo, that “infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk … we want them infected.” In addition to Alexander’s horrific suggestions and factually incorrect claims, officials confirmed that he “spoke for Caputo” and that his recommendations were supported by the White House.
  • Two former employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spoke out about their experiences at the agency during the pandemic, including the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for scientific data and “the White House’s slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget.”
  • The economic impact of the pandemic continues to inflict serious hardships on millions of Americans, with the recent rise in confirmed cases “battering” the U.S. labor market.
    • The Department of Labor reported on December 17 that there were 935,000 new unemployment claims last week, the highest level of unemployment claims since the beginning of September. At the end of November, more than 20 million Americans were collecting state or federal unemployment benefits.
    • With multiple federal pandemic relief unemployment benefit programs set to expire by the end of the year, between 2.4 and 5 million households are at risk of eviction in January 2021, which would disproportionately harm Black and Latino communities and compound racial disparities in housing – and cause more Black and Latino people to contract COVID-19.
    • In the past five months, the U.S. poverty rate has surged, with at least 7.8 million Americans newly falling into poverty since August.
    • Around 60 percent of businesses – approximately 100,000 individual establishments – that closed temporarily during the pandemic have now shuttered permanently.
  • Trump’s refusal to abide by social distancing, mask wearing and other pandemic safety protocols, which encouraged others in his orbit to do the same, sparked several waves of outbreaks within the White House and his administration. And on December 14, Bloomberg reported that a White House security official has been gravely ill for three months after contracting COVID-19, which resulted in the amputation of his right foot and lower leg. It is the most serious of any known cases of the virus connected to the White House.
  • With the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine underway this week, the Trump administration is rushing to roll out a public education campaign to promote it. Its failure to create a coordinated communications rollout plan – and the lack of trust in Trump overall – has resulted in public skepticism about the vaccine. On December 16, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that at least 75 percent of the population must be vaccinated for the U.S. to “approach some level of normality.” Trump himself has been “notably absent” from the current communications plans and activities surrounding the vaccine.
  • Because the Trump administration established no centralized plan for distributing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, there has been significant confusion in states about how much they were going to receive. The Federal Drug Administration is likely to approve Moderna’s vaccine as early as this evening, and the administration has not provided any additional planning resources for the second vaccine’s rollout.

On December 16, the U.S. reported more than 3,600 deaths, over 245,000 new infections, and more than 113,090 hospitalized patients, all of which set pandemic records for single day reports. For the second week in a row, the U.S. has reported more COVID-19 deaths than at any other point during the pandemic. In the last two weeks, deaths have increased by 60 percent, cases have increased by 28 percent, and hospitalizations have increased by 17 percent – and those numbers are only expected to keep going up as we move through the holiday season.

Despite widespread devastation, neither the Trump administration nor Senate Republicans are taking sufficient action to address Americans’ urgent needs. After a week of bipartisan negotiation, Republicans have insisted on eliminating $160 billion in desperately needed state and local government aid and cutting the pandemic unemployment benefits down to just $300 a week in the current draft. And even if Congress successfully passes a bill before the federal budget’s deadline tonight, it’s likely too late to change the outcome of the current aid programs’ rollbacks. Many state unemployment systems are now programmed to cut off benefits before the end of the year and will take weeks to reinstate or reestablish them.

Trump, Mitch McConnell, and their Republican cronies have made their disregard for the catastrophic human cost of this pandemic all too clear. Nearly a year into this pandemic, too many Americans are still sick, dying, losing jobs, falling into poverty, and facing unimaginable suffering and grief. It’s time for Congress to act immediately and provide relief to the American people.