The coronavirus pandemic, the world’s most deadly health crisis since the 1918 Spanish flu, has now claimed the lives of more than 320,000 people, with close to 5 million confirmed cases across the globe. Although the U.S. has just under 5 percent of the planet’s population, the nation now has nearly one-third of all the world’s known COVID-19 cases.
While the Trump regime’s wildly chaotic, incompetent and vindictive response to the pandemic has been on full public display for months, the May 14 Congressional testimony of Dr. Rick Bright, the ousted head of the government’s Health and Human Services Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, provided an insider’s view of the president’s failure to responsibly respond to the health crisis. The federal whistleblower gave members of the health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce a detailed account of how key government officials ignored his urgent calls to coordinate the distribution of personal protective equipment, medical supplies and samples of the virus needed to begin research on vaccines and therapeutics. He asserted, “Lives were endangered, and I believe lives were lost.”
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program with People for the American Way. Here, she discusses Dr. Bright’s testimony and Trump administration actions that confirm their catastrophic failure to effectively respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
MARGE BAKER: I mean, the testimony was incredibly telling and incredibly chilling. The first thing that was clear from his testimony is that Dr. Bright believes that lives were lost because there was inaction and unheeded warnings from the get-go. So for example, with respect to the urgent need for medical equipment such as masks, there were warnings about there’s going to be critical shortage as you have to deal with it. And they went unheeded, and then when they started to try to ramp up, one of the things Bright said is that what they did is they were forced to go to other countries without quality standards to get the supplies. So when they did get the equipment or purported equipment for doctors and nurses, it was defective. So that inaction from the very beginning in terms of critical medical supplies — even for example, masks — led to lives being lost.
So, that’s one really critical finding. Another one was, and this is what Bright said that led in part to his being removed, was that the administration was pushing the expanded use of unproven drugs. This is that malaria drug called chloroquine or (hydroxychloroquine) that was used to treat malaria. And it wasn’t proven to have other uses. In fact, the FDA has now warned about the dangers of using the drug. But there was enormous pressure to ramp up huge supplies that they were going to flood New York and New Jersey with. And it turns out not only does it not cure, does not help, but it can actually harm. And so those are the kinds of things that were happening because it felt like the administration on the one hand, wanting to ignore the problem. So you have a problem with not ramping up on equipment.
And number two, wanting a silver bullet. Now we’ve got this great malaria drug that you know is “going to cure everything” and it won’t. So that is kind of the way the bandwidth of what Bright was telling us, telling the public in that public testimony. And again, there’s your abstract. This is from an insider’s point of view. I mean, this was the office that was set up to deal with pandemics, to deal with readiness for pandemic. So he knows what he’s talking about.
SCOTT HARRIS: Marge, just a final question and this is something that I am extremely focused on in recent weeks and that is the need for accountability. When this pandemic is over and we can pick up the pieces and take a deep breath and be relieved that the illness and the dying is over, finally, in your view, what’s the need for accountability here in terms of the mishandling of this pandemic that costs tens of thousands of lives? And I’ll hearken back to President Obama. When he came into office, he really refused to delve into the illegalities committed by the George W. Bush administration in terms of launching the illegal Iraq war, the torture of prisoners, illegal surveillance and even the fact that there were no prosecutions of any Wall Street bankers for their crash of the world economy back in 2008, if Joe Biden succeeds and winning the White House, what’s the importance in your view of accountability for Trump administration officials and what they’ve done here?
MARGE BAKER: I think it’s important. I think we would have to literally walk and chew gum at the same time. We’re going to have the horrors of what are still going to be present – in terms of the need to respond to the impact of this pandemic – are going to be huge. And in particular, dealing with the inequities of how this pandemic has landed on communities that have historically been marginalized is something that we’re going to have to pay attention to. And so we got do that. But Trump has shredded our democracy. He shredded a democracy by eliminating any kind of guardrails and putting in place henchmen who are willing to help him do that. So I think there has to be some accountability. I mean, I think what Vice President Biden has said is that that’s why there’s an attorney general and this is what a new attorney general would have to have on their plate — looking at what happened during the investigations, finding out what accountability is appropriate. So I think we’re going to have to do both. And I think we can do both. It’s not one or the other. I think that’s a false choice. But we’ve got to do both. And so there’s going to be a really intense time and it’s going to need the support of everyone as we carry through.
For more information, visit People For The American Way at pfaw.org.