All important goals, of course, but that list prompted an obvious question from Tapper: “You’re not going to look at all at the federal response and why it took so long to get a federal response going that would have saved lives?” No, replied Clyburn. “My understanding is that this committee will be forward-looking. We’re not going to be looking back on what the president may or may not have done back before this crisis hit.”
If, as its name suggests, Clyburn’s select committee is the only one House Democrats create to oversee the coronavirus response, the “forward-looking” focus is a mistake. The coronavirus catastrophe, which has already killed thousands and driven millions out of work, was completely predictable. How we got to a point where America was about to be overwhelmed by the pandemic is an essential part of oversight. Americans deserve answers about the failures of the president and his administration, as well as the cost of those failures in dollars and especially lives.
The committee wouldn’t lack for material. The Post has a blockbuster new report summarizing the many ways the president and those around him wasted precious weeks responding to the virus. The key number: “It took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force.”
If delay were the administration’s only sin, that would be bad enough. But it also appears that the president is playing politics with medical supplies. We’ve all known that partisanship has serious consequences, but nothing like this: Bluer states that requested ventilators, masks and other medical equipment have received fractions of what they asked for, while Florida got everything it wanted. Why? Because, as an anonymous official told The Post, “The president knows Florida is so important for his reelection. … He pays close attention to what Florida wants.”
And we don’t even yet know the real cost of these delays and petty decisions, because the death toll from covid-19 isn’t clear. The New York Times reports, “Hospital officials, doctors, public health experts and medical examiners say that official counts have failed to capture the true number of Americans dying in this pandemic.”
That’s just for starters. The White House cannot be trusted to undertake such reviews. There’s no chance that this president, who seethes at any reminder he downplayed the virus, will sign off on an unsparing examination of what he could have done better. Already we’re seeing attempts to cover for administration mistakes, as when the administration altered the Department of Health and Human Services’s description of the Strategic National Stockpile to match Jared Kushner’s bizarre description of it as a backstop for federal officials rather than a resource for the country as a whole.
Nor can congressional Republicans be counted on. Even Clyburn’s committee, with its seemingly inoffensive goals of reducing fraud and waste, has already met with criticism from Republicans: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called it “partisan” and “redundant.” Nothing about President Trump’s first term suggests that congressional Republicans will have any interest in an oversight panel that produces anything other than glowing praise for the president.
That leaves congressional Democrats as the only hope. Both voters making their choices in the fall and experts studying how to improve the response to this pandemic and future pandemics need to what’s gone wrong and who is responsible. It’s up to House Democrats to meet that responsibility.