Coronavirus government response updates: Top Trump officials clash over whether the CDC ‘let the country down’
Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBy LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — As nearly all 50 states are reopening in some measure his week despite a climbing U.S. death toll, some of President Donald Trump’s advisers are publicly fighting over who’s to blame inside the administration for problems in the government’s response to COVID-19.
Tensions between the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have risen to the surface, with one top Trump White House official blaming the agency, and a Cabinet official calling his comments’ “inaccurate and inappropriate.”
“The CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday. “Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test and that set us back.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, has doubled down on his defense of the agency he oversees after initially, saying on Sunday, “I don’t believe the CDC let this country down. I believe the CDC serves an important public health role.”
Asked about Navarro’s comments on Fox News again Monday morning, Azar didn’t mince words.
“Well the comments regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate. The CDC had had one error which was in scaling up the manufacturing of the test that they had developed. There was a contamination that didn’t affect the the accuracy of the test, just led to inconclusive results. They fixed it within weeks and got it out,” Azar said. “That was never going to be the backbone of testing in the U.S.”
After ousted vaccine chief Rick Bright appeared on the CBS News program 60 Minutes Sunday, repeating much of the claims he told Congress that delays by the federal government inhibited its response and that he was retaliated against for not pushing hydroxchloroquine, President Trump tweeted that “This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely.”
….spews lies. @60Minutes report was incorrect, which they couldn’t care less about. Fake News! I don’t know this guy, never met him, but don’t like what I see. How can a creep like this show up to work tomorrow & report to @SecAzar, his boss, after trashing him on T.V.?….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2020
As the Trump administration appears to close out others in its approach to reopen, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world to to rally behind the World Health Organization Monday, even announcing a $2 billion donation to globally fight coronavirus, speaking in the WHO’s first virtual assembly amid the pandemic.
President Trump is expected to make an announcement on WHO funding at some point this week.
Here are Monday’s most significant developments in Washington:
CDC releases stark funeral recommendations and detailed guidance on contact tracing
On the same day President Trump tweeted “REOPEN OUR COUNTRY,” the CDC is tweeting some stark advice on funerals.
The CDC warns the events have spread the virus in some cases and recommends families consider such steps as virtual services and rethinking cultural traditions that might involve touching the deceased or sharing food.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, consider expressing care in ways that do not involve personal interactions,” the CDC states.
Earlier Monday, the CDC issued 56-page guidance for contact tracing, which health experts say is key to slowing the spread.
ABC News’ Anne Flaherty
Trump expresses support for Australia’s effort for international probe of China on virus
President Trump Monday morning expressed his support for an Australian-led effort calling for the World Health Organization to lead an independent review of the origins of the coronavirus, which also has the support of all the EU nations.
“We are with them!” the president tweeted in reply to a news article linking to the initiative.
It seems to be an expression of support and not an announcement that the U.S. is formally signing on to the proposal, given that Australia is calling for this international probe through the WHO.
The president has moved to cut off U.S. funding to the WHO and has sought to shift blame to the global health organization for covering up the virus in collusion with China.
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
Pence’s Monday includes a joint event with POTUS
President Trump and Vice President Pence have been keeping their distance from each other over ever since the vice president’s press secretary tested positive for COVID-19 — 10 days ago now, though the CDC recommends 14 days in quarantine.
But Monday, according to the vice president’s schedule, both are scheduled to attend a teleconference with governors from the Situation Room at 4 p.m.
Trump said last Thursday of Pence: “I miss him.”
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
Trump to visit Ford plant in Michigan Thursday
President Trump plans to travel to Ypsilanti, Michigan, on Thursday to visit a Ford plant manufacturing ventilators, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere tweeted Sunday night.
The president plans to tour the plant that is making ventilators and PPE through a collaboration between Ford and General Electric, according to a White House official. He’ll make remarks there, too, the official said.
The trip fits the mold of his recent trips to the political battleground states of Arizona and Pennsylvania, where he visited a facility producing masks and a medical equipment distribution center, respectively.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson
White House economist says they are in ‘wait-and-see’ mode on whether more relief funding needed, Federal Reserve Chair says full recovery may not some until end of 2021
White House economist Kevin Hassett said Monday morning that the White House is in a “wait-and-see” mode as to whether additional stimulus packages will be needed in the months ahead, even as he said the administration stands ready to take “very strong action” down the line if needed.
“What would be the kind of thing that would take you out of wait-and-see mode? Well if the programs that are essential to get people to the other side without going bankrupt like the PPP, the mainstream lending program ran out of money, then of course we’d rush in right now,” he told reporters.
Hassett said at the present, the assessment of the administration is there is still enough money left in programs to support the economy. He was cautious not to offer a precise timeline of when it would be determined if more is needed but said they will be closely watching to see the progress the economy makes in the coming weeks into June.
“If the economy recovers slower than we expect, it’s possible we’ll have to put some more cash in there and we stand ready to talk about that with Congress but right now we think you should monitor the data and see what are the burn rates of those things,” he told CNBC, and adding that the administration is seeing positive signs as they monitor that incoming data.
Federal Reserve Chair Powell’s told CBS Sunday that the uncertainty around the course of the virus could push a full recovery to the end of next year — but Hassett indicated this morning improved economic performance is to come as businesses start to reopen.
Even if White House agrees more stimulus funding is in order, he said he “doubt[s] that in the end the product is going to look much like what speaker Pelosi put out last week.”
While President Trump has suggested he’d like to see negative interest rates, Hassett was careful not to directly add his own advice but said, “probably the Fed won’t have to do much more on interest rates” if the economy shows signs of a positive rebound in the months ahead.
When asked about Powell’s assessment that the unemployment could dip to 25 percent, Hassett didn’t negate the estimate.
Powell said Sunday that while he expected the U.S. economy to recover, the process would take time — potentially until the end of 2021.
“This economy will recover; it may take a while,” he told 60 Minutes. “It may take a period of time, it could stretch through the end of next year, we don’t really know.”
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps
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