According to a new book, then-president’s derisive nickname for the group was ‘a signal that he wished it would go away’
In the chaotic early days of the United States’ pandemic response, then-president Donald Trump reportedly called his own coronavirus task force “that f***ing council that Mike has.”
The derisive words were revealed in an upcoming book, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History, par Washington Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta.
En janvier 2020, when Covid-19 first appeared in the US, the Trump administration convened a White House Coronavirus Task Force to monitor and contain the virus. At first it was led by health secretary Alex Azar, but after about a month he was replaced by Mr Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence.
Selon Nightmare Scenario’s authors, Mr Trump was contemptuous of the group.
“The president eventually began to refer to it internally as ‘that f***ing council that Mike has,’ a signal that he wished it would go away,” the book says. “He didn’t want anyone to exert leadership, and many on the task force didn’t want the responsibility, Soit, fearful of the consequences.”
By any reasonable standard, the task force was not successful. The coronavirus quickly spread across the US, starting with a devastating outbreak in New York City, and the country soon had the highest Covid caseload and death toll in the world.
But to Mr Trump, a bigger reason to dislike the “council” may have been its star member, Dr Anthony Fauci. As Mr Trump’s own polls plummeted, Dr Fauci gained popularity for his candid warnings about the pandemic – which often contradicted the president.
pendant ce temps, Abutaleb and Paletta write, another member of the task force made waves as well. Dr Deborah Birx, a physician with a background in battling the Aids epidemic, was brought on as the group’s response coordinator in late February. Right away, the book says, she provided “the kind of leadership and organization that the group had so far lacked.”
When she arrived, the authors say, the task force was “a mess.” No one was in charge, “in part because that was the way Trump had wanted it.” Dr Birx quickly called for better data, called out members who she felt didn’t understand the crisis, and gave the group some newfound direction.
But the authors say she was also overly obsequious to Mr Trump, declining to challenge him when he suggested injecting disinfectant into the human body, and gushing over his “ability to analyse and integrate data” in a TV interview.
“It was the kind of sycophancy one expected from Pence or [treasury secretary] Steve Mnuchin, not a government scientist,” the book says.
In any case, the flattery didn’t work – Mr Trump eventually sidelined her as well. When Joe Biden became president, Dr Birx retired from government service. Dr Fauci, pendant ce temps, is currently Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser.