Pandemic planning becomes political weapon as deaths mount

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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Friday, May 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – For the first three years of his presidency, Donald Trump did not publicly utter the words “pandemic” or “preparedness.” Not in speeches, rallies or his many news conferences, planned and impromptu.

But on Friday, the White House pointed to extensive planning exercises the administration conducted and reports it wrote warning of the threat in 2018.

Still, Trump has repeatedly said that the blame for the federal government having inadequate stockpiles of crucial supplies and machines needed to cope with an outbreak lay with his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Obama has been a persistent foil for Trump on a number of issues, but in the case of planning for the pandemic he has devoted little attention to the 69-page “playbook” from the Obama administration about the threat of a viral outbreak that might include Ebola or an airborne respiratory illness like coronavirus. And the Obama administration could draw from a similar document written during the administration of George W. Bush in 2006.

The politics of pandemic planning have gotten increasingly pitched as the COVID-19 death toll continues to mount in the United States.

Trump claims he inherited a “broken, terrible” system from Obama. Critics counter that Trump had three years in office to prepare — more than enough time to build on the pandemic strategies he inherited.

The friction was laid bare in the Rose Garden and the White House briefing room on Friday.

Trump, at a midday event outside the Oval Office, declared: “I inherited nothing. I inherited practically nothing from the previous administration, unfortunately.”