A White House group led by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, scrapped a national testing plan this spring for political reasons — since COVID-19 was hitting blue states harder and the president could blame Democratic governors.
Vanity Fair reports: Trusting his vaunted political instincts, President Trump had been downplaying concerns about the virus and spreading misinformation about it—efforts that were soon amplified by Republican elected officials and right-wing media figures. Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity. Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was reportedly sharing models with senior staff that optimistically—and erroneously, it would turn out—predicted the virus would soon fade away. Against that background, the prospect of launching a large-scale national plan was losing favor, said one public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force. Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert. That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.
New York Magazine adds: While abandoning a national testing strategy because New Yorkers, not Texans, were dying by the thousands would be a damning admission, nearly as troublesome are the successes of Kushner’s program: The one-million Chinese-made diagnostic tests that the task force procured on March 31 through an intermediary in the United Arab Emirates were faulty. After some of the tests were distributed to the states by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, two separate government laboratories had determined that the batch costing taxpayers $52 million were “contaminated and unusable.” A Food and Drug Administration spokesperson added that they were improperly shipped from the UAE: “The reagents should be kept cold.” Though Trump was willing to dream that the coronavirus would pass while it devastated Democratic states, his mindset reportedly — and briefly — changed when Republican-controlled states began to post record highs in daily testing. According to a senior administration official who spoke with the Washington Post, in July, advisers to the president showed him data of COVID spikes among “our people” in red states, as well as projections showing a potential spread to swing states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. According to the Post, the “new approach seemed to resonate,” even if the need for mass testing has not.