Among the governors Trump singled out was Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. But there’s a backstory here that reflects particularly poorly on Trump’s catastrophic handling of the worst public health emergency in recent U.S. history.
Specifically, Whitmer has outlined to reporters in her state some basic facts that illustrate shocking dereliction on the federal government’s part. These remarks haven’t gone national in any serious way — but in light of Trump’s latest attack on Whitmer, they deserve new attention.
On Hannity’s show, Trump ripped into Whitmer, while not even hiding the fact that his anger was stoked by her criticism of his failure to deliver urgently needed supplies.
“She’s not stepping up,” Trump fumed. “All she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done. And we send her a lot.”
Trump added: “She is a new governor and it’s not been pleasant.”
Trump also dismissed New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s demand for ventilators, which are needed to save coronavirus patients’ lives, saying: “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.”
And Trump sneered at Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, claiming: “He shouldn’t be relying on the federal government.”
“We’re really a second line of attack,” Trump said. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals and the local government and the states themselves.”
Now let’s look at what this open abdication of responsibility really means in concrete terms.
Dire pleas for help
Whitmer, at a press briefing in Michigan this week, made a startling claim. After noting that “we’re still not getting what we need from the federal government,” she sought to illustrate the point with some numbers.
Whitmer recounted that the most recent delivery of masks, gowns, face shields and gloves from the federal government’s national strategic stockpile that was earmarked for a Michigan hospital on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis — in southeast Michigan — was woefully short of what is needed.
“With the exception of the gloves, that allotment is barely enough to cover one shift at that hospital,” Whitmer said. “Not even a whole day’s worth of shifts. One shift.”
Officials in the Michigan governor’s office tell me the situation is quite dire. They believe they need 400,000 new N95 masks a day for at least the next few weeks. Given how few have come in from the federal government, they’ve put out an order through other sources — some international — for millions of masks. Due to delays, they’ve received none of them.
Officials in the governor’s office also tell me they need at least 5,000 ventilators. They asked the federal government for 2,000 ventilators. So far, they say, they’ve received zero, though the request is relatively recent.
By the way, Republicans in Michigan are sounding this alarm, too. In a bipartisan letter from the state’s congressional delegation to Vice President Pence that was reported by the Michigan Advance, lawmakers lamented that recent federal shipments of personal protective equipment are “inadequate.”
“Your assistance and engagement are urgently needed,” read the letter.
Meanwhile, as of now, despite all these desperate appeals, Trump still will not fully deploy the Defense Production Act in a manner that might fully meet all of those appeals.
All of which illustrates what it really means for states to be begging the federal government for supplies, even as Trump is treating this as yet another matter he can play games with by going on Hannity and spreading around his magical chaos pixie dust for his base to joyfully snort.
And make no mistake: That’s what this is. Trump is suggesting rather explicitly that he does not recognize any serious urgency to act in a way that might avert countless needless deaths.
Governors who are demanding more help are just “complaining” or failing in their own right, or just exaggerating their needs. And Trump doesn’t “believe” those needs are real. His gut tells him otherwise.
What’s really driving this? The Associated Press reports on one possibility:
Trump has kept a close eye on the coronavirus media coverage and noted which local officials were praising or criticizing him, according to three aides who spoke on condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the president’s private deliberations.
On Hannity, Trump also allowed that most governors have been easy to work with. But can there be any doubt that what he really means is that they haven’t criticized him in the way that Whitmer, Cuomo and Inslee have?
As the AP notes, there is no evidence this has directly influenced Trump’s treatment of states. Still, the very idea that he’d be preoccupied with it at a moment like this is utter madness.
And beyond his rage at being criticized, the possibility simply cannot be dismissed that Trump sees his explicit hand-washing of responsibility for the mounting death toll in certain parts of the country as something that will appeal to parts of the country that he perceives as his own.