WASHINGTON — "It is what it is" -- and that's the worst disaster response in American history, Democrats charged in releasing a scathing oversight report summarizing President Trump's efforts against coronavirus.
"The American people deserve a better response to this pandemic then, and I quote here, 'It is what it is,'" House Democratic Whip Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) said in releasing the damning document, repeating Trump's now infamous quote to Axios on the horrifying death toll unfolding on his watch.
In a concise 6-page document dubbed "A Failure To Lead," the House lawmakers lay out a litany of damning facts, starting with the grim reality of statistics -- the United States, with just 4% of the world's population, has a quarter of all coronavirus cases and has seen both infections and deaths soar as other advanced nations have gotten their numbers under control.
Infections in the United States were nearing 5 million and deaths have topped 158,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
"Six months after the virus claimed its first American life, the federal government has still not developed and implemented a national strategy to protect the American people," Clyburn said. "This failure has prolonged the crisis, resulted in tens of thousands of preventable deaths and worsened economic devastation."
The blame rests squarely on Trump, the report says, and lists a string of missed opportunities, failures to coordinate or lead, and a slew of obfuscations and evasions that have worsened response and outcomes for health and the economy.
Among the biggest failures was Trump's repeated claims early on that the virus was not serious, or even a hoax, most recently in the infamous Axios interview and his claim Wednesday that the virus "will go away like things go away."
"Well sure, it'll go away in two or three years if, you know, 50% of the people test positive and hundreds of thousands of people die," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)
"The problem is Trump is not part of the solution -- he's part of the problem. He really is part of the problem," Pallone said, hitting Trump for testing failures.
According to the report, Trump's failures started well before he assembled his Coronavirus Task Force in the White House, when he had already disbanded the Obama administration's pandemic preparedness unit.
It also raises Trump silencing or punishing medical officials who sought a firmer, science-based response, such as the fired Rick Bright, who refused to back Trump's now-discredited embrace of malaria drugs as a cure.
At the same time, Trump refused to take firm control over procuring and manufacturing the supplies needed to protect people from disease, and to test and trace infections.
The report cites an especially damning op-ed written by Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. "Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation’s response was hopeless," Hogan wrote in the Washington Post. "If we delayed any longer, we’d be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death."
Administration officials have said repeatedly that it is not their job to take control of the response, but to help states do so. Trump's defenders also blame China for the United States' problems because the nation was not forthcoming about the danger when it first emerged. Republicans praise Trump for limiting some travel from China early on, and point the finger at Democratic governors, who they said allowed much of this nation's deaths because of poor nursing home responses.
The point of releasing the report was not just to blame Trump, but to pressure Republicans and the White House to advance a new, massive coronavirus relief package that remains stalled.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters that the two sides remain trillions of dollars apart.
In a joint press conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both insisted they would not cave in to do piecemeal legislation or a temporary fix for things like the just-expired $600 boost to unemployment benefits.
“We’re not having a short-term extension," Pelosi told reporters.
Democrats passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act nearly three months ago. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has floated a package of bills worth about $1 trillion.
Schumer and Pelosi both said Democrats cannot support a measure that helps some, but not others, while the nation is facing a sweeping pandemic.
"There's a broad scope of problems, and the worry we have is, they'll want to do a little band-aid, as I said, vote for one thing, skip out of town, and leave the rest behind," Schumer said.
Earlier, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) gave a similar warning.
“The danger here is that if we were to concede on one portion of the Heroes Act to get us through the next couple of months, what would happen is they would leave town,” Neal said in a conference call. "And that would be the end of all the other provisions.”
McConnell announced Thursday that he would not adjourn the Senate as scheduled, and blamed Democrats for the deadlock, although he himself has stayed out of the talks with the White House and has refused to consider the Democrats’ legislation from May, which he deems a progress “wish list.” He pointed to the shorter-term measures his party tried to advance last week and earlier this week.
“The week since then has seen plenty of talk and plenty of stalling from the Democrat leaders who have insisted on handling this themselves, but no significant movement toward progress,” McConnell said. “Day after day, they’ve stonewalled the president’s team. Day by day, they’ve tried to invent new euphemisms to create the illusion of progress."
While McConnell is technically keeping the Senate in session, many senators left the Capitol for home Thursday afternoon, with the majority leader saying he would give a day's notice before calling any votes.