At Monday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked Donald Trump when American hospitals should expect to see a quicker turnaround on coronavirus test results. The president wasn't pleased with the question.
"Are you ready? Are you ready? Hospitals can do their own testing also. States can do their own testing. States are supposed to be doing testing. Hospitals are supposed to be doing testing. Do you understand that? We're the federal government. We're not supposed to stand on street corners doing testing. They go to doctors. They go to hospitals. They go to the state. The state is a more localized government; you have 50 of them.... And they do the testing."
Trump added that he'd inherited "old" and "obsolete" tests, which have since been replaced. Speaking directly to the reporter who asked the question, he said, "And you should say, 'Congratulations. Great job' -- instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question."
As over-the-top answers go, this one was a doozy. For example, his line about "old" and "obsolete" tests was substantively incoherent: this is a new virus, so there was no way for Trump to inherit faulty tests from his predecessors. There were flawed tests the administration used earlier this year, but they were created by Trump administration.
But perhaps more important was the president's argument that a federal testing policy isn't the White House's problem. A new Washington Post report offers a very different perspective.
Three months into the coronavirus epidemic, the Trump administration has yet to devise a national strategy to test Americans for the deadly disease -- something experts say is key to blunting the outbreak and resuming daily life. In the absence of a national plan, several states are developing their own testing systems, but the emerging picture varies widely. States with more money and robust medical sectors have devised comprehensive plans, while others lag far behind.
Partners in Health medical director Joia Mukherjee told the Post, "Unfortunately, states really are on their own. It's problematic at best and egregious at worst, because some states have more resources than others; some states have more leadership than others."
To hear Trump tell it, this is, for all intents and purposes, a feature, not a bug. If states are developing their own testing systems, good. The president doesn't want the responsibility.
But the result is a national problem with a patch-work, state-based solution, responding to a pandemic that's indifferent to state boundaries.
Barack Obama added on Twitter this morning, "Social distancing bends the curve and relieves some pressure on our heroic medical professionals. But in order to shift off current policies, the key will be a robust system of testing and monitoring -- something we have yet to put in place nationwide."
It's against this backdrop that his successor declared this week, "We're the federal government. We're not supposed to stand on street corners doing testing."