Donald Trump predicted he would lose the November election, and placed the blame with his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, for his work coordinating the coronavirus testing effort, according to a scathing exposé of the president’s final days in office from the New York Times.
“I’m going to lose,” Mr Trump reportedly told Mr Kushner during debate preparations over the fall. “And it’s going to be your fault, because of the testing,” reiterating his regular, scientifically absurd complaint that too much coronavirus testing is bad because it reveals too many cases. The White House denies the exchange took place.
The investigation, based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials, painted a picture of a president having a full-blown meltdown because the pandemic was beginning to eclipse his political prospects.
That put Mr Kusher, tasked with troubleshooting the country’s coronavirus testing strategy and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), frequently at odds with Mr Trump, who often ignored his top scientific advisers’ advice and instead favored political considerations or crackpot theories from his then-adviser Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a Stanford neuroradiology professor with no training in infectious diseases who was recruited to the White House after pro-Trump appearances on Fox News.
Mr Kushner along with other counselors like Hope Hicks reportedly pushed the president for months to encourage mask-wearing, but were stymied because others in the White House worried the president’s base would view it as an impingement on their personal freedoms, even as their internal polling suggested otherwise. (After months of the pandemic, the president was spotted first wearing a mask in July during a visit to the Walter Reed military hospital, and there’s still no mask mandate, which experts estimate could save over 100,000 lives).
Others have criticized Mr Kushner’s testing regime for the opposite: that it failed to meet the moment as the virus spread across the country by being too ad hoc.
“It was entirely tactical troubleshooting and, to be fair, it was pretty successful, with the ventilators and this and that, but it was whack-a-mole,” an outside Republican who regularly worked with the White House told the Washington Post, in regards to Mr Kushner’s work to coordinate testing.
But the US still lacks a true long-term testing strategy, and Mr Kushner was derided inside the White House for bringing in the “Slim Suit” crowd, a group of young volunteers recruited from the world of finance and management consulting to help in his work.
They reportedly weren’t offered government laptops or emails, and their use of personal emails hampered their efforts to secure PPE for the country. Others, with little or no experience in public health, didn’t know basic FDA rules about acquiring PPE, and spent time Googling basic questions.
One, Max Kennedy, Jr., an associate at a private equity firm, filed a whistleblower complaint about the effort, accusing the White House of letting VIPs like Fox host Jeanine Pirro lobby them for PPE to go to favored hospitals, and pressuring volunteers to make a Covid model that showed a low casualty count, which the White House denies.
Cumulatively, the US testing effort has fallen well short of what politicians have promised, and what experts estimate is necessary to curb the pandemic. One of Mr Kushner’s signature efforts was a plan to implement drive-through testing around the country, but the federal government only created 500 temporary sites in 17 states in the past 10 months, an effort which often diverted national PPE stocks while frontline workers were using garbage bags for gowns and reusing face masks.
“The knock against Jared has always been that he’s a dilettante who will dabble in this and dabble in that without doing the homework or really engaging in a long-term, sustained, committed way, but will be there to claim credit if things go well and disappear if things go poorly,” a former senior administration told the Post. “And this is another example of that.”
The US also failed to deploy a working coronavirus test in the crucial early stages of the pandemic.
To this day, the country’s testing and tracing efforts are still woefully behind required benchmarks. Public health estimates said somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 contact tracers needed to be monitoring the virus in the US, but there are only around 70,000, while the US still hasn’t reached the multiple millions of tests a day needed to get a proper picture of the pandemic.