In the wake of a series of avoidable mistakes, Donald Trump and his team have confronted quite a bit of criticism over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak. For the most part, the president has responded by arguing that the unflattering assessments are part of a "hoax" cooked up by his political enemies.
Yesterday, however, during a White House event, Trump switched gears a bit, implicitly acknowledging the missteps, but insisting that Barack Obama deserves the blame. From the official transcript:
"[T]he Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we're doing. And we undid that decision a few days ago so that the testing can take place in a much more accurate and rapid fashion. That was a decision we disagreed with. I don't think we would have made it, but for some reason it was made. But we've undone that decision."
In context, the president seemed to be responding to criticisms that the administration's failures to enact widespread COVID-19 testing have contributed to the escalating public-health emergency. To hear Trump tell it, rascally Obama administration officials imposed some kind of regulation, which was responsible for the failure, and which the current president's team reversed "a few days ago."
It seems to me that there are three broad problems with this, two of which the New York Times succinctly summarized.
It was not entirely clear what he was referring to. Health experts and veterans of the government during Mr. Obama's presidency said they were unaware of any policy or rule changes during the last administration that would have affected the way the Food and Drug Administration approved tests during the current crisis. Moreover, if there were, Mr. Trump did not explain why his administration did not change the rules during its first three years in office.
Quite right. Trump, perhaps feeling a bit desperate, publicly condemned an Obama administration" decision" that doesn't appear to exist.
A CNN report, pointing to information from a Republican source on Capitol Hill and a policy expert at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, added that the president's assertions were "not correct." A Bloomberg News report added, "Experts on lab testing said they were unaware of any Obama-era rule that would have hindered the administration from authorizing lab-developed tests for the coronavirus in an emergency."
What's more, even if the imagined Obama-era rule existed, it wouldn't explain why the Trump administration waited so long to address it.
But even putting these relevant details aside, there's a larger concern with the Republican president's creepy preoccupation with his immediate predecessor. Indeed, it was just a few days ago when Trump, for no apparent reason, lied about the Obama administration's record on combating HIV/AIDS. It was during a meeting with members of the administration's coronavirus task force and executives from leading American pharmaceutical companies, and Trump apparently just wanted to get in a rhetorical shot at Obama, even if the underlying claim was false.
Paul Waldman recently asked, "Has there ever been a president who talked so much about the man who preceded him?" As Trump refuses to let go of his preoccupation with Obama, the answer seems clear.