Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor blasting President Trump’s dangerous incompetence and lack of plan to deal with the coronavirus. Senator Schumer also outlined five steps the Trump administration must take immediately. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
The coronavirus has already spread to 30 countries, including South Korea, Italy, Iran, and 53 confirmed cases here in the United States. Officials at the World Health Organization are now warning world governments to begin preparing for a “pandemic”—a pandemic.
But here in the United States, the Trump administration has been caught flat-footed. The administration has no plan to deal with the coronavirus—no plan—and seemingly no urgency to develop one. Even now, after the virus has already become a worldwide health crisis with rapidly growing economic risk, the Trump administration is scrambling to respond. We have a crisis, and the Trump administration is trying to build an airplane while already in mid-flight.
The harsh fact of the matter is: the Trump administration has shown towering and dangerous incompetence when it comes to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus testing kits have not been widely distributed to our hospitals and public health labs. Those without these kits must send samples all the way to Atlanta, rather than testing them on site, wasting precious time as the virus spreads. The Administration has eliminated—eliminated—the global health security teams—global health security, just what we need now—but they’ve eliminated the teams from both the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security.
And thanks to years of cuts to the global health division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the Trump Administration, the CDC has been forced to reduce the number of countries it operates in from 49 to 10. These are our frontlines. If we can deal with these diseases before they get to the United States, we’re a lot safer. And the administration has mercilessly and thoughtlessly cut, cut, cut these teams.
And then, only a month ago, even as we began to hear about the coronavirus in China, the administration sent us a budget that proposed cutting the CDC budget by almost 16%—the CDC, the agency on the frontlines to keep us safe, to keep us healthy, to prevent American lives from being lost.
Four words describe the administration’s response to the coronavirus: towering and dangerous incompetence.
When officials at the CDC recommended that infected passengers from a cruise ship not be flown to the United States alongside the non-infected passengers, the State Department overruled them. Shockingly, they put infected and non-infected on the same plane! Was this because of politics, because somebody called President Trump or someone else? There are rumors to that effect. We don’t know if they’re true, but they should be checked out. Typical of the administration though—or certainly typical in so many different instances— decisions were made based on politics and optics rather than on the informed opinion of our scientists and doctors. It’s like the Soviet apparatchiks overruling the nuclear scientists at Chernobyl to avoid embarrassment to the regime.
Federal agencies have been so hollowed out that one of the key figures in responding to the coronavirus in our government is Ken Cuccinelli—an immigration hardline ideologue with no public health expertise. Yesterday, Mr. Cuccinelli posted a tweet actually asking for information about the spread of the coronavirus. The one person the administration can come up with to help deal with the issue then emails and asks for information. Of course, because he has no knowledge. He’s not a scientist. He’s not a disease preventer.
This is towering and dangerous incompetence.
President Trump, meanwhile, has said that the coronavirus might “miraculously” fade once the weather gets warmer.
Towering and dangerous incompetence.
With no plan to deal with this potential health crisis, the Administration last night issued an emergency budget request. It was too little and too late. And it asked Congress to reprogram funding dedicated to fighting Ebola—still considered an epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—to deal with coronavirus, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
It is further evidence that the Administration is not taking the coronavirus as seriously as it should. I said as much last night, here on the floor. The president seemed upset about my criticism of his budget proposal this morning. I’m glad he’s noticed. Maybe he’ll start taking this issue more seriously.
Now that I’ve gotten the president’s attention, I want to lay out five things the Trump administration must do to get a handle on the coronavirus.
1. The administration must, at a minimum, restore the cuts to the CDC Budget—Trump’s cuts to the CDC budget have had dramatic effects, shrinking the agency’s footprint abroad to help combat pandemics. The administration must commit now to reversing them.
2. The Trump administration must appoint a point-person—a czar—to implement a real plan to manage the coronavirus: an independent, non-partisan, global health expert with real expertise. Not a political appointee like Cuccinelli. Somebody who is a scientist, who knows these issues, and can coordinate the myriad of federal agencies to fight the fight and prevent American lives from being lost
3. The administration must increase its emergency budget request to at least $3.1 billion with no cuts—no cuts—for Ebola funding, which is still raging in Africa. $3.1 billion is the amount our public health organizations say is necessary. The funding must also include a commitment to reimburse states and localities for all expenses related to addressing the outbreak
4. The Trump administration must expedite delivery of diagnostic testing kits to all 50 states and public health laboratories, so the samples don’t have to be sent to Atlanta and people wait, wait, and wait for a result as the disease spreads.
5. And finally, the administration must stop the proliferation of junk insurance plans that do not even cover coronavirus tests and other related health care services. This is typical of why we have opposed these junk plans—they cover hardly anything. Now that we have this crisis of coronavirus, so many people who have these junk plans will not get tested, because they can’t afford it, and because their plans don’t cover it. A glaring example of why junk health plans—the administration’s solution, it seems, to the healthcare crisis—are totally inadequate and dangerous.
These are five basic steps that any competent administration would have already taken in preparation for the pandemic. There may be others as well. But this is what happens when you have an administration and a president so skeptical of science, so contemptuous of expertise, so practiced in obscuring inconvenient facts, so disdainful of organization and preparation.
Mr. President: you need to get your act together now. This is a crisis. We need you to act. We need this administration to finally do the right thing, after weeks of dithering and exhibiting towering and dangerous incompetence.