In equally terrifying news, Trump’s always-wrong economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has been added to the response team.
On Wednesday night, in an effort to allay fears about the rapidly spreading coronavirus, Donald Trump held a press conference designed to convince the American public that he’s totally got everything under control.
While this sort of effort might have worked under previous administrations, led by a guy who no doubt thinks you can get gonorrhea riding the G train and that strep-test sticks go in the anus, it had the opposite effect.
Over the course of nearly an hour, Trump repeatedly referred to “15” cases in the U.S. despite the fact that there are at least 60; blamed virus-induced stock market declines on Democrats; claimed he’s beating “everybody” in the polls; trashed the Federal Reserve; endorsed Rush Limbaugh’s conspiracy theory that the media is weaponizing the virus to take him down; and announced that he was tasking Mike Pence with leading federal efforts against the disease. More than anything else, it was the Pence appointment that seemingly caused people who hadn’t been worried about Covid-19 at all to reconsider.
What are Pence’s qualifications for the job?
In addition to not being a doctor, he famously helped cause the worst HIV outbreak in Indiana’s history while serving as governor. (As cases surged, he turned to prayer.) In 2000 (!) he was still insisting that “smoking doesn’t kill” or even cause lung cancer. He thinks condoms don’t do enough to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
He doesn’t believe in evolution, and, on the flip side, it sure sounds like he thinks “conversion therapy” works, in spite of a spokesman’s denial. In other words, putting Pence in charge of this effort is like hiring Don Jr. to run NASA.
On the bright side, on Thursday, the vice president’s office announced that Pence had selected the State Department’s top AIDS official, Deborah Birx, a real live doctor, to join the response team. On the less bright side, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who has never been right about anything in his life, was also added to the team.
On the darkest of dark sides, we also learned Thursday about a new gag rule requiring all government officials to get Pence’s approval before making statements about the virus that could make the president look bad:
The White House moved on Thursday to tighten control of coronavirus messaging by government health officials and scientists, directing them to coordinate all statements and public appearance with the office of Vice President Mike Pence, according to several officials familiar with the new approach.... Mr. Pence was scheduled to lead a meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force on Thursday.
The vice president’s first move appeared to be aimed at preventing the kind of contradictory statements from White House officials and top government health officials that have plagued the administration’s response. Even during his news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Trump rejected the assessment from a top health official that it was inevitable that the coronavirus would spread more broadly inside the United States.
According to the New York Times, administration officials are unsurprisingly saying that “the goal is not to control the content of what subject-matter experts and other officials are saying, but to make sure their efforts are being coordinated,” and they’ve definitely, 100% never given us a reason not to believe them.