Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attacks against President Trump are inaccurate and dangerous. The criticisms do not take into account the nature of the Coronavirus or the actions which the President has taken. Conversely, it is necessary to consider Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representative’s lack of action. Most importantly, Speaker Pelosi could cause harm and panic with her rhetoric.
As a threshold matter, it was impossible to stop the Coronavirus from spreading in the United States. The nature of viruses is that they spread. Until a vaccine is invented and distributed, the only way to address viruses is to limit their spread and treat them. Since Coronavirus is a “novel” virus, it is new and never before been addressed. The country had to create tests to detect the virus, a method to distribute the tests, and treatment for those with the virus. In addition, the country had to manufacture unprecedented amounts of masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), and ventilators. The Administration also had to deal with a depleted national stockpile of critical materials which started with the George W. Bush presidency and has continued.
Contrary to Speaker Pelosi’s claim, it is not true that President Trump denied the existence of the Coronavirus. While President Trump initially noted that the US only had a small number of cases (which is true), Trump, the Administration, and the Coronavirus Task Force was hard at work against the disease. Pelosi, and others, may equate a lack of doomsday predictions at press conferences to mean a dearth of action on the disease. This theory, however, does not follow logically, and it is not supported by the facts. President Trump would also note that he wanted to be positive for the country and not induce panic.
President Trump has taken extensive actions, and he did so early in relation to the number of infections in the U.S. First, he formed the Coronavirus Task Force (which has two of the world’s foremost experts on infectious disease: Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx) and instructed it to hold regular, public press conferences. We can assume that the Task Force has been meeting with doctors and experts, reviewing medical and scientific findings, evaluating epidemiological trends, assessing the supply chains for medical supplies, modeling future hospital capacity, interfacing with all 50 governors and local officials, and partnering with private industry.
President Trump took several other actions. He instituted travel bans against individuals coming from China and Europe; declared a national emergency; launched a nationwide plan for mitigation (“15 Days to Slow the Spread”); signed three disaster reliefs bills; directed the Treasury Department to take measures on the economy; postponed the deadlines for income tax until July 15; pushed the FDA for rapid approvals of tests and drugs; encouraged studies into the use of hydroxychloroquine; enlisted the private sector; and coordinated private-public partnerships for logistical support and the creation of PPE, testing, ventilators, drugs, and vaccines.
The two travel bans (China, January 31 and Europe, March 11) may be the most effective steps that the President took. It is frightening to imagine what would have happened if infected individuals had been allowed to come to the United States. The spread of the disease would have been catastrophic.
Regarding Speaker Pelosi, the issue should be why she and the House of Representatives did not act sooner. If Pelosi had been so concerned with the virus, she and the House should have held hearings or passed legislation (other than the relief packages). The House Committee on Oversight and Reform did not hold a hearing on the Coronavirus until March 11, fifty (50) days after the first case in the US. At that point, according to CNN, the US had over 1,200 cases while, worldwide, over 118,000 cases existed with close to 4,300 deaths. The only two other Congressional hearings on the virus were in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on February 5 and February 27.
Perhaps the biggest concern with Speaker Pelosi’s comments is that they may cause people to question whether President Trump is trying to protect them from the virus. Loss of faith in public officials or contradictory information can cause fear and/or panic. If Speaker Pelosi has alternative plans for dealing with the virus or evidence of a poor government response (such as her claims regarding distribution of equipment), she should put these forward responsibly. She should approach the President and Coronavirus Task Force in private (thus not arousing fear or panic), raise objections along with the underlying evidence, and develop an educated consensus and solution.