While president, Donald Trump reportedly yelled at aides to shut down testing for Covid-19 in the United States, fearing the growing number of infections and deaths due to the virus would cost him his re-election.
“Testing is killing me!” he allegedly yelled at Alex Azar, who was secretary of Health and Human Services at the time. “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”
The tantrum is just one of many chronicled in an upcoming book, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History, by Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta. On Monday, the Post published excerpts of the book, which chronicles the United States’ early, bungled handling of the virus.
According to the authors, Mr Azar was baffled by the former president’s outburst.
“Uh, do you mean Jared?” he allegedly replied. Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, had just taken over the national testing strategy.
Mr Trump evidently thought the whole effort was a mistake. In conversations with his aides, he appears to have been more bothered by the Covid statistics themselves – which he called “my numbers” – than on the actual illnesses and deaths they represented.
“This was gross incompetence to let CDC develop a test,” the former president reportedly told Mr Azar.
Mr Trump didn’t just oppose testing in his private conversations. He repeatedly complained about it in public, falsely claiming that the United States only had the world’s highest Covid caseload because it did the most testing. At a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June 2020, he admitted he’d asked his staff to cut down on the tests.
“When you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases,” Mr Trump told the crowd. “So I said to my people, slow the testing down please.”
Nightmare Scenario also details how members of the coronavirus task force fought with each other for dominance, aides blocked Mr Trump from firing staffers he didn’t like, and efforts to distribute masks and medicines faltered. The overall result, the book says, was a slow and “rudderless” response to the crisis.
In another disturbing episode, Mr Trump allegedly floated the idea of quarantining Covid-positive Americans at the same naval base in Guantanamo Bay where terrorism suspects are held.
According to the book, the suggestion came up during a Situation Room meeting in February 2020. At the time, most of the world’s Covid-19 cases were still outside the United States, and White House officials were debating what to do with Americans who had been infected abroad. Some suggested bringing them back into the country to receive treatment at US hospitals.
Donald Trump, reportedly, had another idea.
“Don’t we have an island that we own?” the former president allegedly asked. “What about Guantanamo?”
White House officials reportedly put the kibosh on the idea – even after Mr Trump suggested it a second time.
The Independent has reached out to Mr Trump’s company for comment, but has not yet heard back.