After officials discovered that U.S. aid to foreign countries was not being coordinated with U.S. requests for much-needed supplies to handle the crisis, the Coronavirus Task Force headed up by Vice President Mike Pence clamped down on the process to make sure American needs are prioritized and that countries that are assisting the U.S. get the help they need.
In a report published Tuesday, Politico detailed the sequence of events that led to the task force imposing stricter oversight on the handling of USAID.
“Last week, a Trump administration official working to secure much-needed protective gear for doctors and nurses in the United States had a startling encounter with counterparts in Thailand,” the outlet reported. “The official asked the Thais for help — only to be informed by the puzzled voices on the other side of the line that a U.S. shipment of the same supplies, the second of two so far, was already on its way to Bangkok. Trump aides were alarmed when they learned of the exchange, and immediately put the shipment on hold while they ordered a review of U.S. aid procedures.”
The concern was not just that our allies might be confused or offended, Politico explains, but that Americans might be outraged to learn that urgently needed supplies were being shipped to other countries amid the ongoing crisis.
“The incidents have spurred the Pence-led coronavirus task force to scrutinize all of USAID’s deliveries to countries requesting personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to fight the outbreak, according to people directly involved in the discussions, causing tensions between aid officials and task-force members,” Politico reports. “The administration has also placed a moratorium on overseas shipments of USAID’s stockpiles of protective gear and is asking that the equipment be sent to the U.S. instead, other officials said.”
Pence has also taken steps to make sure that the new review process was not holding up coronavirus-related aid to any countries that were offering assistance to the U.S.
Politico notes that the move follows “backlash” from the administration’s critics, including from far-left California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) who called the president an “incompetent idiot” for sending PPE to China early on.
But the administration says such criticism is unwarranted, noting that the supplies sent to China came from private donations and that they’ve been attempting to balance the complex diplomatic situation as the crisis has unfolded. Politico quotes Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller, who said it is “a good thing” that the administration is “taking a holistic look at where and when we’re sending PPE as we’re looking to fulfill needs here at home.”
Another complication, the outlet highlights, is “China’s attempts to exploit the shortages by supplying aid to Western countries, keenly aware of Beijing’s interest in showing it is supplanting the United States as a global leader.” (Read the full report here.)
While the administration’s handling of aid has resulted in some criticism from Democrats, their most prevalent complaint is that President Trump did not take action fast enough to protect Americans from the pandemic. In the task force’s daily briefing Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, pushed back against that complaint, which was raised by CNN’s Jim Acosta.
“Just to underscore what Dr. Birx was saying, if there was no virus in the background, there was nothing to mitigate,” Dr. Fauci said. “If there was virus there that we didn’t know about, then the answer to your question is probably yes. Now the only trouble with that is that whenever you come out and say something like that, it always becomes almost a sound bite that gets taken out of context, but I think that’s very important, what Dr. Birx has said, is that if there was covert infections here that we didn’t know about, and we didn’t mitigate them, that they would’ve made a difference. If there was virtually nothing there, then there’s nothing to mitigate.”