Saturday, March 21, 2020


It's been obvious for a while that we've been failed by the federal government, and by the president of the United States in particular, but now The Washington Post has proof.
U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.

... despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans. Lawmakers, too, did not grapple with the virus in earnest until this month....

Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs as well as to officials in the Trump administration....

“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” this official said. “The system was blinking red.”
That's an invocation -- I assume a conscious one -- of what George Tenet told the 9/11 Commission.
George Tenet, the former CIA director, told the 9/11 Commission that, given the stream of intelligence warnings about potential terrorist attacks against the United States before 9/11, “the system was blinking red.” Those words reflected just how widespread the concern was across the U.S. government that something bad was unfolding—in that case, a terrorist attack.
The Post story has details -- for instance, Trump interrupting a coronavirus briefing to ask when flavored vaping products would be on sale again. It's hard to imagine a president doing a worse job. It's hard to imagine we wouldn't be in at least somewhat better shape if Hillary Clinton were president now.

Clinton would have been on top of this. Clinton would have listened to the scientists. Clinton would have been focused on transmission rates, test kits, and the production of necessary equipment.

Yet I wonder how much she'd have been hamstrung by Republicans in Congress.

I assume she'd be dealing with a GOP House as well as Senate now, just like the ones her husband and Barack Obama had to deal with after their first two years in office. I imagine she'd be subject to an ongoing series of investigations. (I don't think Republicans would be trying to impeach her -- they'd be threatening it, but it's clear that they've believed since Bill Clinton's presidency that impeachment rallies voters around its target. Otherwise they would have found an excuse to impeach Obama.)

In January, when President Hillary tried to sound the alarm, congressional Republicans and Fox News would have accused her of using a remote virus to distract from the serious allegations against her. If she wanted to spend government money to speed the production of test kits, Senator Rand Paul and others would have held up the cash until a spending offset was found. As the crisis worsened, they'd accuse her of using scare tactics if she accurately described the danger or called for measures to slow the spread of the virus. She'd be described as a wannabe dictator if she ordered drastic measures that curbed Americans' freedom of movement, or if she used her powers under the Defense Production Act to compel manufacturers to produce test kits and protective equipment. And a massive aid package that helped mitigate the economic effects of the crisis for ordinary citizens would be a tough sell -- it would be "big government" and deficit spending, which congressional Republicans don't mind when one of their own is in the White House, but they rail against it if the president is a Democrat.

Republican members of Congress might not be living in quite as much of a fact-free universe as they are now, because this wouldn't have been the Trump era -- although Trump would have been out there, shooting spitballs from his Twitter feed, and for all we know he might be on his way to becoming the Republican presidential nominee again. Without Trump as president, Republicans in Congress might have been willing to acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis a few weeks before it was undeniable. (Governors, including GOP governors, would have been telling them it was no joke.) But they would have fought President Clinton as much as they felt they could without seeming responsible for the crisis. They would have blamed her for alarmism and excessive reliance on government and then they would have blamed her for the severity of the crisis, even though it wouldn't have been quite as bad as it is now.

President Hillary Clinton would have done a much better job at dealing with this crisis -- but she would have been fighting Republicans every step of the way.

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