Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, an Obama administration official, stormed off MSNBC on Thursday during a segment on how the federal government should be responding to the coronavirus pandemic, declaring that he did not “have time to listen to bulls**t people.”
Former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Andy Slavitt argued that the federal government needed to be more involved in responding to the outbreak while Fugate argued that state and local governments needed to take the lead.
“The myth of a single person in charge taking control and running this is a myth,” Fugate said. “This is going to be dealt with on the frontlines at local and state levels, and each state is going to be addressing this unique to their systems.”
“But I’ve always believed the best way the federal government can support our governors is to get out of their way, get them funding, use CDC to give guidance,” Fugate continued. “As we’re running out of stuff, I’m asking the question, why are we not looking at idle capabilities now and governors go contract for that resource? Why wait for the federal government? If they will go to 100% on protective measures and reimburse them, how much more can states do so we can focus the few federal resources we have on the hardest hit areas.”
“So with all due respect to your other guest, there’s not a governor in the country that’s waiting for the federal government right now,” Slavitt said, later adding, “So, what your other guest is suggesting here is not helpful. We need a great partnership between the federal and state government.”
“I don’t have time to listen to bullsh** people,” Fugate responded.
Obama-era FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate storms off MSNBC over debate on how the government should respond to the coronavirus: "I don't have time to listen to bulls**t people." pic.twitter.com/C7xu1VOfdr
— (((Jason Rantz))) on KTTH Radio (@jasonrantz) March 20, 2020
KATY TUR: Joining me former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate and acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Andy Slavitt. Gentlemen, thank you, so we’re hearing about FEMA taking the lead on this, Craig. What does that mean?
CRAIG FUGATE: Well, they’re not taking the lead on it. That’s going to be Health and Human Service that will the lead on the disease. What FEMA is going to be doing is supporting health and human services and the governors as we start getting more and more requests for assistance, so FEMA’s job will be coordinating on behalf of the president, federal resources in support of our lead federal agency this, for Health and Human Services as well as supporting the governors as we see these outbreaks in all of our states.
TUR: Alright, so when they start to try and coordinate the response federally and what we’re seeing is just a frantic lack of personal protective equipment. We just got this word from the CDC saying, hey, listen, if you’re out of face masks, use a bandanna or a scarf. I mean Andy, that is — that is astonishing to think that here in the united States, this first world with all of our advanced, all of our advances, all of our money, all of our resources, that here in this country, doctors and nurses are being told to tie a scarf around their face.
ANDY SLAVITT: Well, we owe them more than that. These folks, the frontline doctors and nurses and first responders, they’re going to be on the frontline for quite some time. It’s not going to be measured in days or weeks. It’s going to be measured in months and we’re already sending them into battle without the things that they need to protect us and themselves and that’s not right and that’s what happens when there’s a lack of preparation. But, you know, we can’t navigate from where we wish we were. We have to navigate from where we are and so we are going to have to do some dramatic things that so far the President has been unwilling to do. Number one, he seems to be backtracking from using the Defense Production Act, which would allow him to start making these masks in large numbers which could be done in a very short time and getting them out to people. He has to face the pressure to do that. It doesn’t make sense. If he wants to be a wartime general, he has got to arm his troops and he says he’s a wartime general. He’s got to do that. The second thing, I called for this yesterday, we need to pass a $5,000 a month payment for every frontline health care worker in the country so they can afford to take care of their family, they can afford child care, they can afford all of the things they need. We need to start thinking of them the same way as veterans and people in the military. They’re a protected class and we owe them a great deal.
TUR: Why don’t you think we are mobilizing to the extent that’s needed on a federal level? Why is the President not using all of those levers, Andy?
SLAVITT: Yeah, I think frankly — yeah, I think frankly, he doesn’t have the command and control structure in that he needs. He doesn’t have the Ron Klain. If I were him, I would call up General Dunford, I would call up General Mattis, and say I want you to come back and I want you to run this effort. You know, it’s not — it’s not very comforting to hear that HHS runs it but FEMA is helping them. That’s going to create more cooks in the kitchen. You need a very streamlined command and control structure here with one person in charge who has been in battle, commanded hundreds of thousands of people, who moved both systems and units and personnel and operations, like tented hospitals, across the country, very, very quickly and we don’t have that person in place. So I would love for President Trump to be the wartime general. As someone who’s been a critic of President Trump’s in the past, I am 100% on his side in solving this problem. But he has got to do the things he claims he wants to do.
TUR: I’m just still confused about why we are so behind in testing and this was a Reuters report out of South Korea. Craig, I’m going to give this to you. “South Korea’s swift actions stands in stark contrast to what has transpired in the United States….the Koreans have tested well over 290,000 people and classified over 8,000 infections. New cases are falling off: 93 reported Wednesday down from a daily peak of 909 two weeks earlier.” The [U.S.], whose first case was detected the same day as South Korea’s is not even close to meeting demands. About 60,000 tests have been run by public hand private labs in a country of 330 million, federal officials said Tuesday.” So, not to be too backward looking here, but if you don’t have a handle on the tests, you don’t have a handle on the infection or how to contain the infection, why is this — why is this so delayed and how can we start expediting it?
FUGATE: I think we were using hope as a strategy. It wasn’t going to be this bad, we could ease into it. We had a lot of capacity. The alarms were going off early. I think we’re slow to this. Now, we’re playing catch-up and that’s the worst position to be in. And the whole thing about having a single person in charge? I’m going to call B.S. on it. I strongly disagree that comes as a single point of failure. We actually have 50 people that are the lead and that’s the state governors and their public health departments. The biggest thing right now the federal government can do is get them money because there’s not enough federal resources to do what needs to be done. Governors need to be in power to take dramatic action to protect lives, make sure they’re doing everything to maximize their resources, start up production, and get things moving. If we wait for the federal government, we’re too late.
TUR: Well, let me ask you this. There are governors ramping things up across the country but taking different steps than other governors. This is a virus not respecting state lines. How can you have a coordinate the response if you don’t have it coordinated from the very top?
FUGATE: The myth of a single person in charge taking control and running this is a myth. This is going to be dealt with on the frontlines at local and state levels, and each state is going to be addressing this unique to their systems. There will be some variation and it gives us resiliency cause there are different ways to approach this. Hopefully they’re sharing information. But I’ve always believed the best way the federal government can support our governors is to get out of their way, get them funding, use CDC to give guidance. As we’re running out of stuff, I’m asking the question, why are we not looking at idle capabilities now and governors go contract for that resource? Why wait for the federal government? If they will go to 100% on protective measures and reimburse them, how much more can states do so we can focus the few federal resources we have on the hardest hit areas.
TUR: I just got news from Mayor de Blasio here in New York and there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of cases here in New York City: 3,615 positive cases of COVID and 22 fatalities. Currently, to spread that out, there are 980 cases in Queens, 976 in Manhattan, 1,030 in Brooklyn, and 436 in the Bronx, 165 in Staten Island. I’m struck, Andy, by how quickly this escalated. Just last week we were considering whether or not some people in this company would go to Florida to cover the primary. That was on, you know, Wednesday. On Thursday that was off the table. Friday all travel seems — was off the table. And that’s just mirroring what’s been happening across the country. At first lockdowns weren’t even considered and now we’re seeing lockdowns around the country. What we saw in China seemed so draconian and now people are wondering why we aren’t doing these fever tests for people walking into buildings? Why aren’t we going out and aggressively trying to find those who might be spreading symptoms and separating them from the population?
SLAVITT: Right. So, it’s a hard thing for people to grasp, but the number of cases we have right now and even those tragic figures you just read are going to seem minuscule in a week. The number of cases we have will double every three days. Right now it’s exceeding that and we have a large number of cases that are untested still. So with all due respect to your other guest, there’s not a governor in the country that’s waiting for the federal government right now. They are all acting. What they need is coordination because we have believe it or not we have masks, we have a lot of these things. Guess where they are? They’re sitting in the supply chain, people are profiteering off of them or they’re going to places where people are hoarding them. Now, that happens in a crisis. It’s only because — it’s only by someone looking through the entire system, and seeing where those needs are, that you can say, stop hoarding them in Texas. We need them in New York right now while we build manufacturing capability and put them in Texas. So, what your other guest is suggesting here is not helpful. We need a great partnership between the federal and state government.
FUGATE: I don’t have time to listen to bullsh** people.
TUR: Ah, Craig, you want to sit down and respond to this? I guess Craig has left. Andy, he doesn’t agree with you at all.
SLAVITT: I guess not. But look, these are trying times and everyone is trying their best, and I know Craig is — I don’t know Craig personally, but I’m sure he’s working as hard and trying his best. Everybody is. These are unprecedented times. So understandable that he’s frustrated.
TUR: Can we see if we can get Craig back? I’d just like him to respond. I never like to leave a conversation like that. Andy I’m going to say goodbye to you in the meantime. Thank you very much for joining us.