GOP governor describes Trump as useless on pandemic response

Among the many who are marveling at Trump's ineptitude on the coronavirus pandemic is a sitting governor from his own party.
Image: Larry Hogan
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature in Annapolis on Feb. 1, 2017.Patrick Semansky / AP file

To the extent that Donald Trump has a coronavirus plan, it's to let state and local officials figure out what to do on their own. With that in mind, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) generated quite a bit of attention in April by taking the president's directive quite literally.

In case anyone's forgotten, the New York Times reported a few months ago that the Republican governor and his wife -- a bilingual Korean immigrant -- went to great lengths to reach a deal with a South Korean supplier on coronavirus testing materials. Trump was not pleased, though the White House was hardly in a position to complain about a governor acting unilaterally in the face of presidential indifference.

Today, the Washington Post published a piece from Hogan about his experiences, and the Maryland governor effectively described Trump as useless.

I’d watched as the president downplayed the outbreak’s severity and as the White House failed to issue public warnings, draw up a 50-state strategy, or dispatch medical gear or lifesaving ventilators from the national stockpile to American hospitals. Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation’s response was hopeless; if we delayed any longer, we’d be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death. So every governor went their own way, which is how the United States ended up with such a patchwork response.... So many nationwide actions could have been taken in those early days but weren’t.

Hogan went on to characterize Trump as clueless and dishonest, too.

[The president] avowed, falsely, that “anybody” could get a test, even as my fellow governors were desperately pleading for help on testing. Then he shifted from boasting to blame. “We inherited a very obsolete system” from the Obama administration, he claimed, conveniently ignoring the fact that his own CDC had designed the troubled U.S. testing system and that his own Food and Drug Administration had waited a full month before allowing U.S. hospital labs to develop their own tests. On March 25, the president was back to bragging again. “We now are doing more testing than anybody by far,” including South Korea, whose widespread testing program was being praised around the world. This was true in absolute numbers, since we are a much bigger country, but we’d tested far fewer per capita than the Koreans had -- 1,048 tests per million people vs. South Korea’s 6,764 per million -- and of course that was the only figure that mattered. During one White House briefing in late March, Trump said the issue had been dealt with. “I haven’t heard about testing for weeks,” the president insisted. Really?

The Maryland governor went on to describe a dynamic in which the Trump administration sought his help, rather than the other way around.

As Trump was making these comments, I was requesting his approval to conduct joint testing at the National Institutes of Health. I even called Francis Collins, the head of NIH, to make this request, but he stopped me before I could. Not to argue but to plead: “Actually, Governor,” he said, “I’m glad you called, because I was going to ask you for help.” At NIH headquarters, he explained, his people had the capacity to perform only 72 tests a day. “I don’t even have enough tests for my immune-compromised patients or for my staff,” he said. He wondered if I might prevail upon Johns Hopkins, whose Suburban Hospital is across the street from NIH, to do some testing for him. I could only shake my head at that. The federal government -- a much bigger and better-funded institution, with tens of thousands of scientists and physicians in the civil service -- wanted my help! Governors always do the hard work, make the tough decisions and take the political heat. But an undertaking as large as a national testing program required Washington’s help. We expected something more than constant heckling from the man who was supposed to be our leader.

If Trump starts publishing furious tweets about Larry Hogan, at least we'll know why.