Washington, DC — Secretary Alex Azar, who is set to testify on President Trump’s budget before the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow, penned an op-ed with Secretary Mike Pompeo in USA TODAY attempting to build a positive narrative around the administration’s inadequate response to the coronavirus. In response to Secretary Azar’s op-ed and in anticipation of his testimony tomorrow, Protect Our Care Chair Leslie Dach released the following statement: 

“After three years of decimating our pandemic response capabilities, and finding themselves unprepared for the coronavirus on U.S. shores, the Trump administration is now doing the one thing they do well: crafting a false narrative.”

BACKGROUND

The Trump administration’s sabotage of health care does not stop at increasing costs and reducing coverage. It also includes failing to adequately protect Americans from infectious disease outbreaks. From budget cuts to leaving key positions unfilled to making it harder for people to access health care, the administration has worked the last three years to undermine and dismantle our pandemic response apparatus, leaving Americans more vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak

Trump Once Again Sought Cuts To Key Programs For Global Disease Response In His 2021 Budget. In his 2021 budget, Trump proposed steep cuts to the two agencies in charge of the coronavirus response, seeking to reduce NIH funding by $3.7 billion and CDC funding by $1.29 billion. He previously proposed cutting global health funding in his 2020 budget from more than $10 billion to $8 billion, its lowest level since 2008. Per Foreign Policy, other Trump-backed efforts included “reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS.”  

Trump Dismantled The NSC’s Entire Global Health Security Unit And Failed To Fill Other Key Public Health Vacancies, Leaving The Country “Ill-Prepared” For A Global Pandemic. In 2018, the Trump administration dismantled the entire global health security unit at the National Security Council, reassigning its leader, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, a long-time public health official who had served under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Additionally, Tom Bossert, another key official for infectious disease preparedness and biodefense strategy, left that same year. No one has since filled these positions. Moreover, Trump has pursued cuts to the global health section of the CDC so severe that the number of countries it was working in decreased from 49 to 10. In 2017, the Washington Post reported that Trump had “failed to fill crucial public health positions across the government, leaving the nation ill-prepared” for a global pandemic.”  

Trump’s Recent Proposal To Block Grant Medicaid Threatens The Ability to Respond to Outbreaks. Under the Trump administration’s proposed block grant, federal funding would no longer necessarily increase in response to a public health emergency. This could lead to people losing coverage and access to care, undermining prevention and treatment of diseases nationwide. 

Trump’s Texas Lawsuit And Other Efforts To Repeal The ACA Would Cut Key Funding From The CDC. GOP repeal bills would have eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. In 2017, the Washington Post reported that this fund “provides almost $1 billion annually to CDC, now about 12 percent of CDC’s budget. It includes prevention of bioterrorism and disease outbreaks, as well as money to provide immunizations and heart-disease screenings.” The Trump administration is currently supporting a lawsuit that could repeal the ACA in its entirety, and there is no plan to maintain this funding if the courts overturn the health care law. 

Trump Is Spreading Misinformation About The Outbreak. On January 30, 2020, Trump tweeted: “Working closely with China and others on Coronavirus outbreak. Only 5 people in U.S., all in good recovery.” But as Time noted, “a sixth case of the virus had already been confirmed, and public health experts said it was not yet clear that those infected were ‘all in good recovery.”’ A few days later, without evidence, Trump claimed “we’ve pretty much shut it down.”  

HEADLINE TIMELINE

2017

Global Biodefense: “Pandemics, Personnel, And Politics: How The Trump Administration Is Leaving Us Vulnerable To The Next Outbreak” 

Washington Post: “The Trump Administration Is Ill-prepared For A Global Pandemic” 

2018

Washington Post“Top White House Official In Charge Of Pandemic Response Exits Abruptly” 

The Atlantic:  “Ebola Returns Just As The White House Loses Its Top Biodefense Expert” 

2019

New York Times: “Scientists Were Hunting for the Next Ebola. Now the U.S. Has Cut Off Their Funding.”

Vox: “A Crucial Federal Program Tracking Dangerous Diseases Is Shutting Down”

Mother Jones: As Ebola Deaths Mount in Africa, Trump Is Screwing Up the Response

USA Today: “Trump tweeted heartlessly about Ebola in 2014. He’s ill-equipped to handle 2019 outbreak.”

2020

Foreign Policy“Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response” 

Stat: “The Coronavirus Gives Trump His Biggest Outbreak Emergency Yet — And Experts Are Worried”

The Guardian: “Us Underprepared For Coronavirus Due To Trump Cuts, Say Health Experts”

Time: “Wuhan Coronavirus Could Test The Trump Administration’s Ability To Respond To A Crisis. Experts Are Worried” 

The Atlantic“Coronavirus Is Coming—and Trump Isn’t Ready” 

Nbc Opinion: “Coronavirus Threat Needs A National Emergency Response. Trump’s Putting Ours At Risk.”