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Team Trump aims at Obama's pandemic playbook (but misses)

Team Trump claims it's replaced Obama's "flimsy" pandemic playbook with a "robust" alternative. It's like a Veep script gone awry.
Image: Kayleigh McEnany
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House on May 1, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained to the president's daughter-in-law this week that the Obama administration failed to leave behind "any kind of game plan" for Donald Trump and his team to follow on dealing with a pandemic. It was an odd complaint for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the Obama administration wrote a pandemic playbook and left it as a guide for the Republican White House follow.

McConnell conceded yesterday that he was mistaken. But around the same time, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany shared some related thoughts with reporters about the 69-page National Security Council playbook on fighting pandemics.

"The Obama-Biden plan that has been referenced was insufficient; it wasn't going to work. So what our administration did, under the leadership of President Trump, is do an entire 2018 Pandemic Preparedness Report. Beyond that, we did a whole exercise on pandemic preparedness in August of last year and had an entire after-action report put together. In other words, the Obama-Biden paper packet was superseded by a President Trump-style Pandemic Preparedness Response plan.

Donald Trump quickly added that the new "Pandemic Preparedness Response plan" is "much better" and "a lot tougher" than the Obama-era plan.

Today, from the White House press briefing room, McEnany went considerably further, holding up the "Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents" from 2016, and dismissing the 69-page document as "a thin packet of paper."

She then held up a couple of binders, holding what she described as "detailed, robust pandemic response reports commissioned by the Trump administration."

The whole thing feels a bit like a Veep script gone horribly awry, but let's go ahead and kick around some of the obvious follow-up questions:

* How many pieces of paper are there in those two binders? If the total is under 69 pages, can we dismiss them as "thin packets"?

* If the Trump administration's Pandemic Preparedness Response plan is real, why are we just hearing about it now, more than two months into the crisis? As a Washington Post analysis added today, "No one has ever heard of this extraordinary pandemic response plan."

* Can the White House release the contents of its plan, so that we can do a side-by-side comparison between Trump's "robust" blueprint, and Obama's "flimsy" plan?

* If Trump's plan is real, why can't McEnany talk about its contents?

* If Trump had such an impressive and comprehensive plan, why didn't he follow it?