Monday’s White House coronavirus press conference brought a slew of questions as reporters hoped to parse out why and when President Trump intends to lift the national social distancing measures and how the Republican stimulus bill would responsibly distribute a $500 billion corporate slush fund that currently allows for the Treasury Secretary to withhold the names of the businesses that receive bailout cash.
Answering the first question, Trump suggested that an extended economic shutdown would result in more “death” than the spread of a virus that in best-case estimates would kill tens of thousands of Americans. Answering the question of who would provide accountability for the unrestricted distribution of half-a-trillion dollars, Trump’s response was even less promising: “I’ll be the oversight. I’ll be the oversight.”
Anyone with a cursory memory of Trump’s time in office should be hesitant to hand over a sum roughly equivalent to the GDP of Belgium to a figure that is legally not allowed to run a charity in New York state. As Intelligencer’s Jonathan Chait wrote yesterday, it’s not hard to parse out the ethical concerns of giving such oversight to a president who just faced impeachment for withholding aid from its Congressionally-approved recipient:
One obvious outcome of this financing arrangement would be to create the all-but-certain outcome that the Treasury would select the Trump Organization as one of the worthy recipients of its largesse. Trump’s vacation properties have indeed been forced to shut down, and while an unbiased manager might not select the Trump Organization over needier coronavirus victims, Trump himself probably thinks differently. Indeed, at his press conference, the president did not even bring himself to deny that he might. “Let’s just see what happens,” he replied, as if the outcome might contain any mystery … The entire concept that the federal government ought to operate independent of the president’s political whims is inherently foreign to Trump.
Earlier in the press conference, Trump also brought an unhelpful comparison out of retirement, comparing the mortality rate of the coronavirus to that of the flu. (Though the mortality rate of COVID-19 is still unknown, its relative range of 1.4 to 2.3 percent is significantly higher than the seasonal flu’s .01 percent.) And for the second conference in a row, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was not in the room. After consistent disagreements in their public statements and Friday Fauci’s dissent-by-face-palm, there is speculation that the doctor’s 35-year tenure as NAIAD director might not outlast the Trump administration. When asked if Fauci agreed with Trump’s consideration to send Americans back to work, Trump said that Fauci “doesn’t not agree” and that he wasn’t in the room to answer questions about the medical efficacy of potential coronavirus exposure for millions of Americans because “we weren’t discussing what he’s best at.” If it were up to the doctors, Trump said, they would “shut down the entire world.