Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush never faced a pandemic, but both came to understand what a major global health crisis could mean for the United States, and each took steps to prepare. Through interviews with former high-ranking officials — including Kenneth Bernard, Tommy Thompson, Mike Leavitt and Frances Townsend — ‘Fair warning’ documents Clinton’s creation of the Strategic National Stockpile in 1999, Bush’s response to outbreaks of SARS and avian flu, and the passage of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act in 2006, which fast-tracked the production of future vaccines.
President Barack Obama put pandemic preparedness to the side upon taking office, focusing instead on an economy in free fall. But the 2009 outbreak of H1N1, the first flu pandemic in 40 years, made health security an urgent priority for his administration; later, it would confront the emergence of Ebola in West Africa. Through interviews with former top officials — including Dennis Carroll, Nicole Lurie, Ron Klain and Chris Kirchhoff — ‘Guided by the science’ portrays a White House that quickly gained critical expertise and that left behind a pandemic playbook for the next administration to draw upon.
Despite decades of warnings and preparation, President Trump has claimed that the novel coronavirus “came out of nowhere.” He downplayed the coronavirus as it began to take hold in the United States, disregarding the advice of experts and politicizing a health crisis. Through interviews with former Trump administration officials Mark Harvey and Olivia Troye, along with Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Yasmeen Abutaleb, ‘Playing it down’ explores why the White House was slow to respond to the pandemic, and the far-reaching consequences of its inaction. After months of mixed messages, contradictory policies, divisive rhetoric — and more than 225,000 deaths — the president continues to insist the virus will one day disappear.