A former top U.S. vaccine official and an executive of a medical mask maker in Texas each told Congress on Thursday they believe lives were lost because of missteps by the Trump administration in its early handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rick Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint after he was removed from a senior post at the Department of Health and Human Services last month, said his superiors dismissed urgent warnings in January and early February about an impending shortage of N95 respirator masks. Bright also said the administration delayed potential work on a U.S.-made vaccine by not acting fast enough or forcefully enough to press China for samples of the virus. And Bright said his removal showcased how, generally, politics overtook science as President Trump took center stage in responding to the U.S. crisis.

Since President Trump merely lashed out, calling Bright “disgruntled” (you bet, since he was witnessing deliberate indifference to a looming crisis), one can surmise that the administration does not have a factual rebuttal to Bright’s testimony. Indeed, the testimony of Michael Bowen, the co-owner of a mask-manufacturing company in Texas, seemed to confirm the utterly incompetent and thickheaded administration simply refused to recognize reality. (Bowen testified, "I’m a lifelong Republican, and I’m embarrassed by how that’s been handled. Like Rick Bright said, it’s the scientists we need to be listening to, and we’re not.”)

Bright laid out the multiple failings of the administration — pushing discredited drug cures, refusing to plan ahead for production and purchase of masks, etc. Worse still, the administration has no “single point of leadership right now for this response, and we don’t have a master plan for this response.” In fairness, there is a single point: Trump.

The bad news is that Trump’s contribution is wholly negative: Modeling bad behavior (refusing to wear a mask); cheering irresponsible action (e.g., a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that sent Wisconsinites flocking to crowded bars and restaurants); lying about the sufficiency of our testing program; heaping scorn on Anthony S. Fauci for suggesting that schools might not be able to throw open their doors in the fall; and hawking a discredited cure, hydroxychloroquine, which his own Food and Drug Administration has warned Americans not to take for this purpose.

Bright also raised doubts about the notion we will have a vaccine within 12 to 18 months. Perhaps he is unduly pessimistic, but his warning reminds us that there is no guarantee we will “prevail” in either testing or in rushing through a vaccine. Put simply, the health crisis is likely to go on much longer than Trump officials insist. (Remember Jared Kushner declared victory and said we’d be firing on all cylinders in June?)

Federal Reserve officials certainly are not predicting a quick solution, which means the economy will not spring back as Trump keeps insisting. Neel Kashkari, the Minneapolis Fed president, said on CBS News on Thursday, “If this is a slow recovery, the way I think it is — I think we’re in this for months, a year, 18 months — there are going to be a lot of families that are going to need direct financial assistance.” He added, “I think a V–shaped recovery is off the table.”

If Trump’s evaluations of the virus and the economy are badly out of whack — a safe bet — then House Democrats’ argument for the so-called Heroes Act on which they will vote Friday takes on added weight. In a letter, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her members, “The Heroes Act delivers the strong, urgent response that this crisis requires: funding a science-based path to reopening the economy with testing, tracing and treatment, honoring our heroes with robust funding for state, local, tribal and territorial entities and hazard pay and putting more money in the pockets of workers and families.”

During her weekly news conference, Pelosi quoted Bright (just as she had previously invoked the Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome H. Powell). “Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” Bright said. “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.” Bright (and Pelosi) have that one right. Now it is time to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that there is “urgency” to act.

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