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Image: Dept of Health & Human Services
The Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington on April 5, 2009.Alex Brandon / AP file

After dire HHS warning, Trump responds in a Trumpian way

Trump was pressed for an explanation for an HHS report on dire shortages of supplies at U.S. hospitals. It did not go well.


Near the start of Saturday's White House press briefing, Donald Trump talked about the White House's communications with hospital administrators, whom he said have the supplies they need. "[T]hey're really thrilled to be where they are," the president said.

There's plenty of powerful evidence to the contrary. NBC News reported yesterday on a brutal report from the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Hospitals across the country face dire shortages of vital medical equipment amid the coronavirus outbreak -- including testing kits and thermometers -- and fear they can't ensure the safety of health care workers needed to treat patients with COVID-19, according to an internal government watchdog report released Monday. The alarming findings, based on interviews conducted from March 23 to March 27, represent the first government assessment of how the country's hospitals are coping with the outbreak and confirm previous media reports and warnings from health workers that the medical system is under unprecedented strain.

The IG's report went on to highlight contradictory guidance from officials at different levels of government, which has led to "a greater sense of confusion, fear and distrust among staff that they can rely on hospital procedures to protect them."

Yesterday, Donald Trump was pressed for a response to the report's findings. It did not go well.

The president principal defense involved targeting the report's authors. "It's just wrong. Did I hear the word 'inspector general,' really? It's wrong," he said. Trump added, "[W]here did he come from, the inspector general? What's his name? ... Could politics be entered into that?"

There's nothing to suggest those responsible for the report -- Ann Maxwell, the assistant inspector general for evaluation and inspections, and Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general -- were motivated by politics. What's more, as CNN's Daniel Dale noted, the document's principal author is a career official with more than two decades of experience under Democratic and Republican administrations.

But for Trump, the details seemed irrelevant. The IG's office presented him with evidence that was at odds with his assumptions, so the president did what he's done too many times before: he assumed that the discouraging information is wrong and politically motivated.

It's a recipe for unaddressed crises: Trump only wants to resolve problems he chooses to believe exist.