President Donald Trump was asked repeatedly during Monday’s White House coronavirus task force briefing about a new Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general report detailing the federal government’s failure to provide hospitals with the testing and equipment resources they need. His contemptuous responses spoke volumes about his disdain for oversight, as well as for any reporter who has the gall to ask him questions he doesn’t like.
The HHS IG report was released on Monday, two days after Trump fired intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson for not doing his political bidding with a whistleblower’s complaint about the president’s dealings with Ukraine. Trump’s initial response on Monday to a question about the HHS IG report referenced his reflexive distaste for the oversight position.
“It’s just wrong. Did I hear the word ‘inspector general?’” Trump said. “Could politics be entered into that?”
Trump dismisses HHS IG report critical of federal coronavirus response: "It's just wrong. Did I hear the word 'inspector general'? Really ... what's his name? ... could politics be entered into that?" pic.twitter.com/SMsHlgKMI4— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 6, 2020
When he was asked about the report for a second time, Trump suggested it couldn’t be trusted because he wasn’t sure whether the HHS official who put it together — Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm — was appointed by him. Grimm, however, has experience in the federal government under both Republican and Democratic presidents dating back to the Clinton administration. Moreover, the IG report is based on direct conversations with hospital administrators.
Later, when Fox News reporter Kristin Fisher attempted to ask Trump specifically about the report’s finding that hospitals are working with a “severe shortage” of testing materials, Trump unloaded on her.
“You should say ‘congratulations, great job,’ instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question,” he said.
Trump castigates a female reporter who asked him about testing failures: "You should say 'congratulations, great job,' instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question." pic.twitter.com/PCYGlkZ2au— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 6, 2020
Fisher wasn’t alone in being on the receiving end of Trump’s abuse. Trump also bashed ABC’s Jon Karl because Karl didn’t tell Trump that Grimm had served under President Obama when he asked a question about the IG report — as though Grimm’s experience under a previous administration destroyed her credibility.
“You’re a third-rate reporter. What you just said is a disgrace,” Trump said to Karl. “You will never make it.”
The HHS IG report, which is based on a random sample of administrators from 323 hospitals across the country conducted March 23-27 — before the worst of the coronavirus pandemic hit the US — details a lack of testing supplies and medical gear that’s making things difficult for hospitals, and alludes to the disorganized nature of the federal response.
One administrator told HHS the supplies they received from the federal government “won’t even last a day.’” Another detailed how their staff had resorted to jury-rigging ventilators from anesthesia machine.
A third administrator, referring to shortages of surgical masks that the federal government hasn’t been able to address, said, “we are throwing all of our PPE best practices out the window.” And a fourth lamented “instances of receiving conflicting guidance from different Federal, State, and local authorities.”
Instead of engaging with that reality, however, Trump on Monday characteristically deflected from it with ad hominem attacks. You can’t solve problems if you don’t even recognize they exist.
The IG report comes days after the Associated Press broke news that the federal government waited until mid-March to try and replenish the national stockpile of medical gear. By that time, “hospitals in several states were treating thousands of infected patients without adequate equipment and were pleading for shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile,” the AP reported.
When asked about his administration’s tardy response, Trump’s standard line is that states should be doing more on their own and should be grateful for any federal help they’re fortunate enough to receive.
“The people that you’re looking at — FEMA, the military — what they’ve done is a miracle,” Trump said during the White House briefing on Sunday, referring to the AP report.
In a move he’d repeat again on Monday, he then went on the attack against the reporter who dared to ask him a question that reflected poorly upon him.
"You should be thanking them for what they have done, not always asking wise guy questions" -- Trump ends the press briefing by berating an Associated Press reporter who dared to ask him about the government's slow response to coronavirus pic.twitter.com/EUq6SG42aN— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 6, 2020
“What they’ve done for states is incredible, and you should be thanking them for what they’ve done and not always asking wise-guy questions,” he said.