WASHINGTON — The timing could not have been worse. As the nation awoke on Friday morning to news that President Trump had contracted the coronavirus, House Republicans released a report praising his “steadfast leadership through an unprecedented crisis.”
The rosy report contrasted sharply with the reality of a White House in turmoil, not to mention of a nation that widely disapproved of Trump’s coronavirus response even before he himself fell ill.
The report, titled “President Trump’s Plan: A Whole of America Response,” was authored by House Republicans who sit on a coronavirus subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee. The principal author was the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the chamber’s Republican leadership and a staunch supporter of the president.
The task of defending the president’s response became immeasurably harder after it was revealed that Trump had contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, sometime last week. As he received care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend, the coronavirus spread through the West Wing and among Trump allies in the Senate.
A poll taken shortly after the announcement of Trump’s illness found that 56 percent of Americans disapprove of how he has handled the pandemic.
The report is, for the most part, a dutiful recounting of White House talking points about limiting travel, providing states with personal protective equipment, the coronavirus economic relief package and attempts to reopen schools and restart the economy. While some of the efforts have been successful, critics say they have not been enough. What’s more, those efforts have not been part of a single concerted plan, a lack that Democrats on the coronavirus subcommittee have previously highlighted.
A staffer for committee Republicans said the report was necessary to dispel the Democrats’ “partisan narrative” about the president’s pandemic response. “The facts show that President Trump created and implemented numerous national plans tailored to specific situations that provided operational flexibility and rapid responses to ever-changing situations,” the staffer said.
Democrats on the House Oversight coronavirus subcommittee were appalled by both the timing and conclusions of the report, calling it “the height of irresponsibility” to release such a document as Trump fell ill. “Instead of gaslighting the American public,” a Democratic aide told Yahoo News, Republicans “should be working urgently with the White House on a national plan to contain and control the spread of this deadly virus.”
A GOP staffer, who could speak only under the condition of anonymity, said the committee’s Republicans had planned to release the report on Friday long before that morning’s diagnosis.
Scalise did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans, including Scalise, have argued that Trump’s plan to address the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 210,000 Americans, has been effective and coherent. Scalise’s report praises Trump for “following the science” and “working with experts” on issues like school reopenings and vaccine development.
“President Trump has a plan,” Scalise and his fellow Republicans wrote in their committee report. “It is an unparalleled Whole of America response to this pandemic.”
But in the hours after those words saw the light of day, events in Washington provided a stark counterargument. The Trump administration was heavily criticized for keeping secret the scope of the outbreak that struck the West Wing. Over the weekend, there appeared to be little effort at contact tracing. And details of Trump’s own treatment were, at various points, troubling, contradictory or flat-out untrue.
That has made efforts, like those of Scalise, to defend Trump’s handling of the response an even heavier lift than they might otherwise have been — though that did not stop Republicans from trying. “President Trump is steadfast in his commitment to deliver a safe and effective vaccine to the American people, rebuild our economy, and defeat the virus — the facts show no less,” a Republican committee staffer said.
An appendix to the Scalise report contains a list of about 150 different guidances, memoranda and notices on aspects of the pandemic response, from advice for pet stores to resources for Native American communities. None of those documents, however, is a national plan.
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