It’s being widely reported that President Trump angered some of the nation’s governors by telling them on a private call that they should not wait for the federal government’s help in trying to fill increasing demand for respirators for people diagnosed with the coronavirus.
One of the governors — Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico — laid into Trump in a sharp, pointed and passionate manner, her communications director, Tripp Stelnicki, told me.
The good news is that Lujan Grisham got results — or, at least, a promise of more cooperation. According to Stelnicki, Vice President Pence has since called Lujan Grisham and pledged to work with her to supply what she needs to handle the state’s response.
This is ominous, because it underscores the lengths to which governors will have to go to get the help they need from the federal government — with items that should arguably be no-brainers already at this point in the process.
Trump’s call with governors got some attention after the New York Times reported this startling tidbit:
“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Mr. Trump told the governors during the conference call, a recording of which was shared with The New York Times.“We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
According to the Times, Lujan Grisham told Trump: “If one state doesn’t get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk.”
But according to Lujan Grisham’s spokesman, she went further than that. The sticking point for Lujan Grisham was not just over respirators; she told Trump that she needs more processing chemicals from the federal government to carry out testing on the ramped-up scale she wants to see, Stelnicki told me.
And Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, was particularly frustrated by Trump’s seeming disengagement from needs such as these, Stelnicki said.
Still, Stelnicki said that in the end, the fact that Pence got back in touch with Lujan Grisham is cause for optimism.
“She made the point passionately that we expect access to these things, and Pence said they were going to help get it done,” Stelnicki told me. He confirmed that the state has 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has done around 1,200 tests — but wants to dramatically expand testing as quickly as possible.
The reason this is so worrisome is that it’s now been nearly two months since Trump made his first public comments about coronavirus, on Jan. 22, when he claimed that “we have it totally under control.” Yet testing still is lagging horribly behind, some eight weeks later.
Remember, Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has functioned as a kind of decoder of the administration’s ongoing response, has conceded that the inability to get testing underway faster was a serious “failing.”
And Fauci has even declined to say whether the delayed response may have been responsible for placing us on a path to a spike in coronavirus cases akin to that in Italy, which means it very well might have.
Yet despite all this, governors are still wrangling with the federal government to get the basic supplies needed to ramp up this most basic aspect of our response. That’s not a good sign, is it?