Trump Hillary Clinton, White House, Barack Obama discussed on POLITICO's Pulse Check
My head so Dan the reason I am asking about. Twenty years ago is that you had this big investigation. Come out this week about how around the same time when you were sitting in your college dorm room playing video games. I was sitting in my basement listening to with my brother. Some officials in the White House were preparing for a serious pandemic. Like we're seeing right now at this exact moment and others in the White House though were ignoring it. I mean I WANNA get into some of this story that you wrote. I. I'm curious. Why did you focus on that chapter of recent history when I mean? There's just so much going on right now. Jeremy I think that a theme of the current reporting is how much of what we are doing to fight this. Pandemic this couvert. Nineteen outbreak has its roots in. What happened twenty years ago? Including all the way back to the Bush administration's efforts to fight bioterror and there are parallels between the country fighting this crisis and the moment in time after the terrorist attacks in two thousand one. We'll take us inside of the Bush. Whitehouse what was going on there at this time. In two thousand one the Bush administration was trying to find its footing. The big issue in the health department across the summer of two thousand. One wasn't pandemics. It was stem cell research. Connie Thompson he was the health secretary at the time. The Alexy's are of two thousand one Tommy Thompson hadn't really done much or had any expertise in emergency preparedness or pandemic flu in fact several former officials and Told me that Secretary Thomson was set to have one of his first pandemic preparedness briefings on the morning of September eleventh. Then everything changed that day. His agenda change the health department's Focus and mission change the country changed almost immediately preparedness bio hazards. Those became top priorities for HHS which recruited new staff like a scientist named D A Henderson. Who had fought smallpox and those fears were worsened days later with the anthrax attacks that were mailed out to news outlets and lawmakers and several people died including a pair of DC postal workers. There were real fears of domestic terrorism. So I mean did these fears lead to any preemptive planning at the time for things beyond bio attacks like for things you know like the pandemic. We're seeing right now so the story gets into this a bit the idea that. Hhs needed a dedicated office to work on emergency preparedness issues and that's where Da Henderson. A bunch of other new hires scientists military experts came into play. They worked on early. Pandemic plans in one. Big Focus across two thousand to two thousand three was the idea of smallpox vaccination this. This was a fear that vice president. Cheney had that there would be an attack using smallpox on America in some way maybe on our soldiers on the frontlines possibly even on the homeland as a follow-up terror attack the administration ramped up a plan to vaccinate some if not all Americans against smallpox and this. This was something that health officials were really worried about. Because if you roll out a massive vaccination campaign you have to be sure that the side effects from those vaccinations aren't GonNa also cause new problems and DA. Henderson was one of the scientists who was really worried that there would be on a massive scale vaccination complications potentially in children so he warned President Bush not to go through with the national plan and it appears president. Bush listened to him and and other scientists and and stood down When with a more limited vaccination plan and then more notably Bush and his team pursued a plan to fight pandemic flu back in two thousand five and officials like Mike. Levitt the health secretary at the time who followed Secretary Thompson and a deputy named Alex as our ended up playing a major role in rolling out. That new plan to fight pandemic influenza. So this is the same Alex as our who's now working for president trump in the Bush administration working on planning for something. That sounds almost exactly like what we're seeing right now. It is one in the same. It is Alex as our who in the Bush administration cut his teeth on these issues before joining department. He was not a healthcare expert but as the top lawyer at the health department for four years and then as the top deputy to the secretary as our took a major role in crafting those plans and learning the lessons of preparedness. One former official told me that he's our had a binder of many tabs. Essentially all the emergency plans. You'd ever need if there was an emergency. This was a guy who really lived the idea of being prepared for whatever was coming around the corner and now that we are in the middle of the pandemic that Asia another's had planned for had warned about those plans in the Bush administration are helping inform but the trump administration is doing today. So I WANNA get more into you know how this leads to what we're seeing right now under the trump administration but I I know you also talked with in the Obama White House who who took over these panic planning efforts after after the Bush administration. What did they do next well? I think it's both what did they do. And what didn't they do? And one thing that the Obama team did right away that might surprise listeners. The Obama team came in and dissolved the White House Office on Healthcare Preparedness and security. This is something that Bush did when his team took over. The White House Clinton had had an office of global security that Bush dissolved. And it's the same decision that trump would get castigated for years later This is a constant theme that a new administration comes in and for whatever reason decides. They know how to do this better. They don't need all the same offices and trappings and staffing that the previous administration did but thinking in. The Obama. White House changed quickly. Because there was a flu there were there was a pandemic the h one n one pandemic flu in two thousand nine into two thousand ten and that taught the Obama team that a preparedness plan wasn't just a necessary feature. It was a needed tactic to fight the pandemic that they were facing each one and one led to a number of investments improvements across the health department some of which came into play later in the Obama administration when the abol outbreak ravaged West Africa in came to the United States the handling of that outbreak. The handling of -able was not seen as perfect even by Obama officials. I talked to a few who admitted. They did not move as quickly as they would have liked to contain that outbreak. Partly because it was unprecedented. Bullet didn't normally move the way that that outbreak did where jumped across country borders normally at burned itself out but the combination of the H. One one fight at the beginning of the administration. The Abol outbreak at the end of the administration led the Obama team to not only have this pandemic preparedness unit inside the White House but they crafted the pandemic playbook which we talked about one hundred previous. Podcast this this step by step guide. That was supposed to help the next president. Whether Trump Hillary Clinton whoever helped the next president avoid all the pitfalls that the Obama administration ran into so then president trump takes office in two thousand seventeen. He's had two presidents before him. Prepare for pandemics. One of them is handing off a playbook of how to deal with pandemics. What happens then? The trump administration has gotten a lot of criticism for getting these handoffs and not doing enough with them. We have some of the big stories here in addition to the pandemic playbook Hall Tuesday Daniel. Lemon I wrote the story. On the trump team getting briefed and a pandemic exercise at the beginning of two thousand Seventeen Moose to those officials ended up leaving the administration and some of the officials. Who Were there like Wilbur? Ross the commerce secretary either were disinterested or some said that Ross fell asleep during that briefing. So it's fair to say that pandemic preparedness was not a top of mind issue for most trump incoming appointees 2017. One official. Who took it very seriously was a guy named Tom Bossert? He was trump's homeland. Security Adviser he had worked on pandemic preparedness during the Bush administration. He'd been a top deputy working on the pandemic flu plan. So bossert was was a big believer that the US had to be prepared for this fight. Unfortunately for Bassir. He was dismissed from the White House. Little over a year later when John Bolton came in as the new national security adviser so by the time of the corona virus outbreak arrived this year some of the officials who are best prepared to fight it had already left and officials like Alex Czar. Who who had taken lessons from his experience in the Bush administration who had warned the president back in January that this was going to be an urgent issue. Alex Azar was also politically weak as listeners of pulse check will know he had fought and lost in battles with the White House. He had fought and been mashed banana. Survival fight with Seema Verma at CMS. So he was not playing The strongest hand when he went to the White House and try to convince trump to take politically risky moves to prepare to fight the corona virus outbreak. But as as things have unfolded the past few months it's pretty clear that as our and his deputies if you're looking at the right side of history for who was trying to warn the president they will be on that side of the ledger. Even though as our in his team also clearly failed on some other things like getting the country ready. It's a complicated story. And and that's why that's why the story from this weekend was fifty seven hundred words long. It's hard to boil down. Who is right who is wrong unpreparedness because doing this kind of work is so fricking hard where you don't know what's coming around the corner and if you warn too loud no one takes you seriously if you don't warn enough then people will die tracing these responses over three administrations over twenty years the past two decades? What do you think we can learn from all of this about the response to the Corona Virus Pandemic? Right now sued. Jeremy I think the shame of it is in the middle of a crisis. There's probably less to learn than either in the build up to a moment like this when officials are sounding alarms or trying to get ready or alternately after when we have a clear picture of what went right what went wrong and how to learn and copy that but it's clear to me after interviewing officials across the past three administrations the value of practice of getting the muscle memory of knowing who to call. What are the decisions we have to make? How many supplies do we have? And who is in charge of ramping that up? Those sorts of things can happen very easily in a down moment and one big frustration that I heard again and again was the United States went through this massive planning exercise two years ago for an emergency. This happens every two years. Fema calls together different government offices. And this isn't just sit in a room and you know pointed a blackboard. And figure out where you'RE GONNA do. Hypothetically this is a role playing scenario where people are scattering around the DC area. They're making calls are kind of acting out what they would need to do what they ended up acting out was a scenario where a hurricane struck. Dc A big hurricane. What would happen? How would you respond to that disaster? The problem was the federal government. Had already done that in real life. It responded to three big hurricanes in two thousand seventeen just a few months beforehand and officials were confused as I think any of us would be. Why are we spending all of our time role playing this hypothetical situation? We have all this real world experience and I talked to officials who said we should have used that time to practice for a possible pandemic. We were overdue and some said. They raised those complaints at the time. The issue being at the bureaucracy had moved so far along on planning this other hypothetical hurricane exercise. But what I have heard again and again is if we have more tabletop exercises just people sitting in a room and deciding. How are we going to allocate ventilators? How are we going to decide when to sound the alarm on pandemics? That would train of those senior leaders to know what to do when the moment arrives..