President Donald Trump is frantically trying to quell criticism that he and his team were caught off guard by the growing number of coronavirus cases worldwide, fearful that a narrative of dysfunction could complicate his reelection bid.
Advisers to President Trump have for weeks tried to gather data about how quickly the virus spreads, how it can be stopped, and how to contain an outbreak in the future. But those efforts have largely remained behind closed doors, leaving the public wondering what—if anything—the administration has been doing to address the outbreak. Meanwhile, as cases doubled, then tripled, across the globe, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have increasingly called out top administration officials to be more transparent and to declassify their briefings, accusing them of mixed messaging on the severity of the virus.
The situation came to a head Wednesday morning when Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, was grilled by lawmakers about the adequacy and breadth of the administration’s response. Azar, defended the effort and beat off suggestions that he would soon be replaced with a formal czar for coordinating the coronavirus response. Officials say that they don’t believe such an appointment will happen–despite reports to the contrary—citing the president’s support for the secretary both publicly and privately.
Nevertheless, harsh criticism from Capitol Hill over the administration’s handling of the virus—dubbed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY) as “towering and dangerous incompetence”—prompted panic in the halls of the White House early this week that the administration was losing grip on the narrative. The fear, according to two senior administration officials, was that not only lawmakers but the general public were becoming increasingly wary of the discrepancy between the president’s statements and those of the health officials leading the task force. [Continue reading…]