It's not 'nasty' to ask why Trump disbanded his global health unit

Trump said he doesn't "know anything about" the disbanding of the White House global health unit two years ago. Maybe he could look into it?
Morning breaks over the White House and the offices of the West Wing in Washington
Morning breaks over the White House and the offices of the West Wing in Washington.(C) Jonathan Ernst / Reuters / REUTERS
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By Steve Benen

It was two years ago when the Trump White House shut down the National Security Council's entire global health security unit. NBC News had a good report on this recently, noting that the decision "to downsize the White House national security staff -- and eliminate jobs addressing global pandemics -- is likely to hamper the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, conceded last week, "It would be nice if the office was still there."

A reporter asked Donald Trump on Friday if he takes any responsibility for disbanding the White House pandemic office. The president responded that the question was "nasty," before offering a wholly inadequate answer.

"[W]hen you say 'me,' I didn't do it. We have a group of people I could ask perhaps -- my administration -- but ... I don't know anything about it. I mean, you say -- you say we did that. I don't know anything about it."

It's difficult position to take seriously. For one thing, when a White House makes a decision, presidents aren't exactly in a position to say in effect, "Don't blame me; I just work here."

For another, Trump has addressed the subject -- in a general sense -- more than once in recent weeks, making it implausible that he had no idea what the reporter was talking about on Friday.

But even putting these relevant details aside, if the president doesn't "know anything about it," I suppose the obvious follow-up question is, why not? Shouldn't he know something about it?

As the New York Times noted, there were "repeated bipartisan urgings from lawmakers and experts" to replace the officials ousted when the White House disbanded the team tasked with leading the country's response to a pandemic.

Beth Cameron, who served as the senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council, wrote a piece for the Washington Post over the weekend that someone in the West Wing should probably circulate.

"When President Trump took office in 2017, the White House's National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact," she wrote. "Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19."

If Trump doesn't "know anything about it," maybe he should look into the matter?