“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” President Donald Trump told governors on March 16, 2020. Just a few days earlier, the president had defiantly announced, “I don’t take responsibility at all” when asked about the administration’s failure to provide widespread access to coronavirus testing.
The poor coordination between the federal government and states during the pandemic was defined not just by Trump’s abdication of responsibility, but also by his attacks on state leaders critical of his response. From smearing Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Twitter (and reportedly telling Vice President Pence not to call her) to telling reporters that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker “couldn’t do his job, so we had to help him,” the first months of the pandemic painted a picture of an administration intent on forcing states to go it alone.
“Desperate for medical equipment, states encounter a beleaguered national stockpile,” read one Washington Post headline from late March. Reporting in that article suggested that states were receiving aid and supplies unequally, and American Oversight is looking into whether the federal government is favoring or disfavoring states, and into how the administration addressed the spread of Covid-19 through Native American communities.
The lack of central leadership continued into the summer, as the president’s political interests, rather than science and safety, apparently remained the White House’s primary navigator in its pandemic response. Testing capacity remained worryingly low, leaving labs and state leaders concerned about preparations for the fall. As states experience case surges at different times and rates, it is essential for the public to know how the Trump administration coordinated with state and local leaders to respond to the crisis.