Obama blasts Trump’s handling of coronavirus pandemic as ‘an absolute chaotic disaster’

The Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been an ‘absolute chaotic disaster,’ former President Barack Obama said on Friday.

President Trump’s predecessor blamed the current occupant of the Oval Office and his allies for exacerbating ‘tribal’ tensions around the country, which he says has hampered the effort to reduce total number of cases nationwide. 

Audio of the web call in which Obama spoke was obtained by Yahoo News.

‘What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy – that has become a stronger impulse in American life,’ the president said.

‘And by the way, we’re seeing that internationally as well.

‘It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty.

Former President Barack Obama

Former President Barack Obama

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump

Former President Barack Obama (left) blasted President Trump’s (right) handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as an ‘absolute chaotic disaster’

‘It would have been bad even with the best of governments.

‘It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset – of “what’s in it for me” and “to heck with everybody else” – when that mindset is operationalized in our government.’

Obama added: ‘That’s why, I, by the way, am going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for Joe Biden.’

There’s currently more than 1.3 million cases of coronavirus and 78,000 deaths in the U.S. 

Save for campaign speeches during the 2018 mid-term elections, the former president has largely been quiet since Trump took office and replaced him after defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Obama’s comments on the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic were a much sharper attack on his successor.

Last month, Obama offered veiled criticism of Trump over the COVID-19 crisis, claiming that there was no ‘coherent national plan’ to address the outbreak.

‘While we continue to wait for a coherent national plan to navigate this pandemic, states like Massachusetts are beginning to adopt their own public health plans to combat this virus––before it’s too late,’ the former president tweeted.

Obama used the tweet to issue an attack on the president, but also praised Massachusetts for its response to the pandemic with a New Yorker article titled: It’s Not Too Late to Go on Offense Against the Coronavirus.

As several states continue to lament that they do not have the supplies to administer enough testing, some have taken matters into their own hands.

On April 22, Obama launched a veiled attack on Trump without using the president's name, claiming there is no 'coherent national plan' on coronavirus response

On April 22, Obama launched a veiled attack on Trump without using the president's name, claiming there is no 'coherent national plan' on coronavirus response

On April 22, Obama launched a veiled attack on Trump without using the president’s name, claiming there is no ‘coherent national plan’ on coronavirus response

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker launched a plan for full-scale, statewide testing, which will be used to implement effective quarantine and treatment systems.

The state was able to increase the number of tests administered from just 41 on March 9 to more than eight thousand by April 17.

Obama also attacked his successor at the end of March as Trump signed the CARES Act to provide $2.2 trillion in economic stimulus and relief for Americans and small businesses.

‘We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic,’ the two-term Democrat tweeted last month.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker

A woman gets a nasal swab to test for coronavirus in Chelsea, Massachusetts

A woman gets a nasal swab to test for coronavirus in Chelsea, Massachusetts

Obama also praised Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s (left) response to the virus, and in his tweet linked to an article about the state dramatically increasing its testing capabilities

‘We can’t afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall,’ he continued at the time.

This election year has been upended by the pandemic. With no vaccine in sight and the number of cases climbing, some states have started to gradually reopen their economies while others have maintained a lockdown.

The Trump administration has been scrutinized for its response to the pandemic.

Reports in several media outlets indicated that Trump played down the severity of the coronavirus even while his own experts were urging him to take it seriously.

Top Trump administration officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and trade adviser Peter Navarro reportedly sounded the alarm about a pandemic reaching American shores as early as late January, but the president failed to heed the warnings.

Critics said the valuable time that was lost could have been used to ramp up testing as well as provide medical professionals adequate supplies of personal protective equipment in order to better deal with the pandemic.

Trump has also been criticized for mixed messaging – touting social distancing and preventative measures on the one hand but then urging his supporters to ‘liberate’ states through mass demonstrations on the other. 

The president has also made comments that have prompted mockery and scorn from the public, including his suggestion that cleaning disinfectants could be ingested into the body in order to treat COVID-19. 

Trump, for his part, has claimed that his decision to shut down travel from China saved lives, though the administration has allowed flights from China carrying American citizens and legal residents to continue landing in the country.

Workers at Island Harvest Food Bank working in conjunction with the Nourish New York initiative distribute locally produced goods to people in need of food assistance in Massapequa, New York, on Friday

Workers at Island Harvest Food Bank working in conjunction with the Nourish New York initiative distribute locally produced goods to people in need of food assistance in Massapequa, New York, on Friday

Workers at Island Harvest Food Bank working in conjunction with the Nourish New York initiative distribute locally produced goods to people in need of food assistance in Massapequa, New York, on Friday

The record unemployment rate reported on Friday captured the pain of a nation where tens of millions of jobs suddenly vanished, devastating the economy and forcing Trump to overcome historic headwinds to win a second term.

Just a few short months ago, Trump planned to campaign for re-election on the back of a robust economy.

That’s a distant memory after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April, leading to an unemployment rate of 14.7 per cent, the highest since the Great Depression.

There’s no parallel in US history for the suddenness or severity of the economic collapse, which is ravaging some states that are crucial to Trump’s victory.

The president is now tasked with convincing voters that the catastrophic jobs losses were the result of the pandemic – not his management of the public health crisis.

He also argues that he deserves another chance to rebuild what the virus destroyed.

‘What I can do: I’ll bring it back,’ Trump told Fox News on Friday.

‘It’s fully expected. There’s no surprise. Everybody knows that.

‘Even the Democrats aren´t blaming me for that.’

Bringing back jobs quickly won’t be easy.

Backdated statistics show that unemployment reached as high as 25 per cent in 1933 during the Great Depression.

A broader calculation of unemployment from April’s jobs report suggests the rate might be nearly that high now, as the 14.7 per cent rate doesn’t include people who left the labor force or still consider themselves employed despite not working.

But the efforts needed to contain the spread of the coronavirus have caused much more rapid job loss than during the 1930s.

Decision to bury CDC reopening America report ‘came from the highest levels of the White House’, who then ordered parts of it be fast-tracked for approval after report emerged it had been shelved

The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation’s top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent weeks working on  a report titled ‘Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework’, which was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. 

The report included detailed ‘decision trees,’ or flow charts aimed at helping people determine whether they should reopen their places of business or continue to keep them closed.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent weeks working on a report titled ‘Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework’. Emails obtained by The Associated Press show CDC Director Robert Redfield (right) signed off on the report, but it was still buried by ‘the highest levels of the White House’

The report  (part of which is pictured above) was designed to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. The CDC repeatedly chased up The White House for sign off on the report - but appeared to be stonewalled for weeks

The report  (part of which is pictured above) was designed to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. The CDC repeatedly chased up The White House for sign off on the report - but appeared to be stonewalled for weeks

The report  (part of which is pictured above) was designed to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. The CDC repeatedly chased up The White House for sign off on the report – but appeared to be stonewalled for weeks 

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that parts of the report had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.

Despite this, the administration shelved the report on April 30.

As early as April 10, Redfield, who is also a member of the White House coronavirus task force, shared via email the guidance and decision trees with President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, top adviser Kellyanne Conway and Joseph Grogan, assistant to the president for domestic policy. 

Also included were Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other task force members.

Three days later, CDC’s upper management sent the more than 60-page report with attached flow charts to the White House Office of Management and Budget, a step usually taken only when agencies are seeking final White House approval for documents they have already cleared.

The 17-page version later released by The Associated Press and other news outlets was only part of the actual document submitted by the CDC, and targeted specific facilities like bars and restaurants.

The Associated Press obtained a copy Friday of the full document. That version is a more universal series of phased guidelines, ‘Steps for All Americans in Every Community,’ geared to advise communities as a whole on testing, contact tracing and other fundamental infection control measures.

On April 24, Redfield again emailed the guidance documents to Birx and Grogan, according to a copy viewed by The Associated Press. 

Redfield asked Birx and Grogan for their review so that the CDC could post the guidance publicly. 

Attached to Redfield’s email were the guidance documents and the corresponding decision trees – including one for meat packing plants.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens (file photo)

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens (file photo)

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens (file photo)

‘We plan to post these to CDC´s website once approved,’ Redfield wrote.  

Redfield’s emailed comments contradict the White House assertion Thursday that it had not yet approved the guidelines because the CDC’s own leadership had not yet given them the green light.

Two days later, on April 26, the CDC still had not received any word from the administration, according to the internal communications. 

Robert McGowan, the CDC chief of staff who was shepherding the guidance through the White House Office of Management and Budget, sent an email seeking an update. 

‘We need them as soon as possible so that we can get them posted,’ he wrote to Nancy Beck, an OMB staffer.

Beck said she was awaiting review by the White House Principals Committee, a group of top White House officials. 

‘They need to be approved before they can move forward. WH principals are in touch with the task force so the task force should be aware of the status,’ Beck wrote to McGowan.

President Trump and Robert Redfield are pictured together at The White House on April 22. At the same time CDC employees were repeatedly asking the White House to approve their 60-page report about reopening America

President Trump and Robert Redfield are pictured together at The White House on April 22. At the same time CDC employees were repeatedly asking the White House to approve their 60-page report about reopening America

President Trump and Robert Redfield are pictured together at The White House on April 22. At the same time CDC employees were repeatedly asking the White House to approve their 60-page report about reopening America 

Redfield's emailed comments contradict the White House assertion Thursday that it had not yet approved the guidelines because the CDC's own leadership had not yet given them the green light. Redfield is pictured in a file photo

Redfield's emailed comments contradict the White House assertion Thursday that it had not yet approved the guidelines because the CDC's own leadership had not yet given them the green light. Redfield is pictured in a file photo

Redfield’s emailed comments contradict the White House assertion Thursday that it had not yet approved the guidelines because the CDC’s own leadership had not yet given them the green light. Redfield is pictured in a file photo  

The next day, April 27, Satya Thallam of the OMB sent the CDC a similar response: ‘The re-opening guidance and decision tree documents went to a West Wing principals committee on Sunday. We have not received word on specific timing for their considerations.

‘However, I am passing along their message: they have given strict and explicit direction that these documents are not yet cleared and cannot go out as of right now – this includes related press statements or other communications that may preview content or timing of guidances.’

According to the documents, CDC continued inquiring for days about the guidance that officials had hoped to post by Friday, May 1, the day Trump had targeted for reopening some businesses, according to a source who was granted anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press.

On April 30 the CDC’s documents were killed for good.

The agency had not heard any specific critiques from either the White House Principals Committee or the coronavirus task force in days, so officials asked for an update.

‘The guidance should be more cross-cutting and say when they should reopen and how to keep people safe. Fundamentally, the Task Force cleared this for further development, but not for release,’ wrote Quinn Hirsch, a staffer in the White House’s office of regulatory affairs (OIRA), in an email to the CDC´s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.

The White House has now requested the CDC refile the report after The Associated Press published a report claiming the 60-page document had been blocked by the White House

The White House has now requested the CDC refile the report after The Associated Press published a report claiming the 60-page document had been blocked by the White House

The White House has now requested the CDC refile the report after The Associated Press published a report claiming the 60-page document had been blocked by the White House

CDC staff working on the guidance decided to try again.

The administration had already released its Opening Up America Again Plan, and the clock was ticking. Staff at CDC thought if they could get their reopening advice out there, it would help communities do so with detailed expert help.

But hours later on April 30, CDC´s Chief of Staff McGowan told CDC staff that neither the guidance documents nor the decision trees ‘would ever see the light of day,’ according to three officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The next day, May 1, the emails showed, a staffer at CDC was told ‘we would not even be allowed to post the decision trees. We had the team (exhausted as they are) stand down.’

The CDC’s guidance was shelved – until May 7.

That morning The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration had buried the guidance, even as many states had started allowing businesses to reopen.

After the story ran, the White House called the CDC and ordered them to refile all of the decision trees, except one that targeted churches. An email obtained by the AP confirmed the agency resent the documents late Thursday, hours after news broke.

‘Attached per the request from earlier today are the decision trees previously submitted to both OIRA and the WH Task Force, minus the communities of faith tree,’ read the email. 

The CDC report provided information for business owners about when it was safe to reopen. Pictured: Tennessee barber Greg Smith is pictured back at work Wednesday

The CDC report provided information for business owners about when it was safe to reopen. Pictured: Tennessee barber Greg Smith is pictured back at work Wednesday

The CDC report provided information for business owners about when it was safe to reopen. Pictured: Tennessee barber Greg Smith is pictured back at work Wednesday

An excerpt of the 60 page 'Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework' is pictured

An excerpt of the 60 page 'Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework' is pictured

CDC officials worked on the report for weeks, before asking The White House for approval

CDC officials worked on the report for weeks, before asking The White House for approval

Two pages of the 60 page ‘Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework’ are pictured

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that parts of the report had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. New emails obtained by The Associated Press, however, contradict her assertion

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that parts of the report had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. New emails obtained by The Associated Press, however, contradict her assertion

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that parts of the report had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. New emails obtained by The Associated Press, however, contradict her assertion

‘Please let us know if/when/how we are able to proceed from here.

The US has the world’s highest number of coronavirus cases at 1.31 million as well as the highest death toll. 

CDC is hearing daily from state and county health departments looking for scientifically valid information with which to make informed decisions. Behind the scenes, CDC scientists are working to get information to local governments. 

The agency employs hundreds of the world’s most respected epidemiologists and doctors, who in times of crisis are looked to for their expertise, said former CDC director Tom Frieden. People have clicked on the CDC’s coronavirus website more than 1.2 billion times.

States that directly reach out to the CDC can access guidance that’s been prepared, but that the White House has not yet released.

‘I don’t think that any state feels that the CDC is deficient. It’s just the process of getting stuff out,’ Plescia said.

The news comes as it is revealed that 11  members of the United States Secret Service have recently tested positive for COVID-19 while 23 others have recovered from the illness..

Some 60 employees of the agency charged with protecting President Trump and other senior government officials are currently in quarantine due to the outbreak, according to Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by Yahoo News.  

Meanwhile, Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, tested positive for the virus on Friday. She had been in recent contact with the vice president. Miller is married Stephen Miller, a top Trump adviser.

The positive test for Katie Miller came one day after White House officials confirmed that a member of the military serving as one of Trump´s valets had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Trump’s valet’s case marked the first known instance where a person who has come in close proximity to the president has tested positive since several people present at his private Florida club were diagnosed with COVID-19 in early March. 

The valet tested positive Wednesday.

The White House was moving to shore up its protection protocols to protect the nation’s political leaders.

Trump said some staffers who interact with him closely would now be tested daily.

Pence told reporters Thursday that both he and Trump would now be tested daily as well. 

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