So, our Coronavirus Czar is going to be … Mike Pence. Feeling more secure?
“I know full well the importance of presidential leadership,” the vice president said as soon as he was introduced in his new role.
Totally qualified. First criteria for every job in this administration is capacity for praising the gloriousness of our commander in chief.
Yeah, when you think of Mike Pence you maybe don’t think about Pandemic Fighter Supreme. But as President Donald Trump pointed out repeatedly, he has already run Indiana.
Well, it probably could have been worse. Having a czar does make you feel there’s somebody in charge. At least Trump didn’t come before the cameras and announce solemnly, “Today I’m asking every American to cross your fingers.”
Our president had to be going crazy over a problem that involves both declining stock prices and germs. This is the guy, after all, who thinks shaking hands is “barbaric,” who is followed around by aides bearing sanitizer. During his news conference he told the story of a fever-ridden supporter who gave him a hug. Do you think it was an apocryphal fantasy? Either way, the idea has been haunting him forever.
Meanwhile, he’s come up with a totally new explanation for the stock market skid. It turns out investors were not frightened so much by the pandemic as the Democratic debate.
“I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democratic candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves,” Trump told reporters.
Plus that virus thing is … not necessarily a big deal. What really “shocked” him, Trump said, was his discovery that “the flu in our country kills 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year.”
So the problems are the Democrats and the flu. The answers are Mike Pence and … reminding the public once again that Nancy Pelosi’s district has a big homeless problem.
Earlier in the day Trump argued, via tweet, that despite the expressions of concern by the evil media and “incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades,” the government is perfectly prepared to handle the coronavirus. Which he misspelled “caronavirus.” But nobody’s perfect.
The president had been saying everything is totally under control for some time. (“It’s one person coming in from China.”) The whole administration picked up the cry. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, 82, overcame his habit of dozing off at meetings long enough to tell Fox Business Network that the disease would “accelerate the return of jobs” from overseas.
Trump totally agrees. “What it’s going to do is keep people home, and they’re going to travel to places we have,” he said.
See? The virus thing is a bonus.
The runup to the Pence unveiling had not been exactly calming for citizens who wanted to have faith in competent White House oversight. Barack Obama used to have special epidemic-watching groups just in case this kind of crisis developed. One was headed by the highly regarded Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, who got sent packing by John Bolton. Another infectious disease expert, Tom Bossert, suddenly vanished from the Department of Homeland Security in 2018, presumably also at the hand of John You-know-who.
If Bolton’s memoir ever makes it into print, do you think it’ll have a chapter called “My War on Pandemic Fighters?” OK, probably not.
Virus Week hasn’t really provided a whole lot of comfort to citizens who wanted to believe the president’s replacements were super high quality.
The nation got its first real look at Chad Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary, who appeared before a Senate subcommittee and admitted he had no idea how the virus was transmitted among humans, exactly how dangerous it was, or … pretty much anything.
When Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who is not known for anti-administration bias, asked whether the country had enough respirators to deal with a coronavirus epidemic, Wolf answered in the affirmative.
“We just heard testimony that we don’t,” Kennedy responded.
“OK,” said Wolf.
To be fair, he’s only been on the job since November. He’s the fifth head of Homeland Security Trump’s had in the last three years. Good thing he has a deputy — or at least an acting deputy — to help. That would be Ken Cuccinelli, who made news this week when he went on Twitter to ask for tips on how to find an online map of coronavirus sites posted by Johns Hopkins University. (“Here’s hoping it goes back up soon.”)
Losing faith in presidential appointees for health protection? Stop being so negative. They’re all vetted by the Presidential Personnel Office, which is now headed by John McEntee, 29, who was previously fired from another White House job because of concerns about a history of gambling problems and tax issues.
McEntee will be getting plenty of help from other stellar appointees, the newest being a 23-year-old college undergraduate. Together they’re going to be cleaning house, getting rid of folks who are insufficiently loyal to the president. Or maybe aren’t qualified or something. Never can tell.
Also part of the new coronavirus response team is Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services — a veteran Cabinet member and experienced former pharmaceutical lobbyist.
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Azar was asked if he’d consider using some of the billions of dollars in funds for Trump’s border wall to help combat the current health crisis.
Azar just chuckled. Actually, people, this is probably not a theme we ought to be pursuing. Chances are, if the president is encouraged to mix the subjects of coronavirus and Mexico walls, he’ll suddenly announce that we need a barrier much bigger and thicker and more expensive, so it can stop the flow of immigrant germs.
Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.