After more than two years of investigation, the Democratic-led House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released its final report Friday, shining a harsh light on the federal government’s response to Covid-19.
The committee, chaired by Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), accuses the Trump White House of “failed stewardship over the pandemic response,” saying the administration showed a “persistent pattern of political interference” that undermined the nation’s public health capabilities. "The Trump Administration’s reckless pandemic response resulted in devastating and lasting harm," the report says.
Among other problems, the Trump administration failed to change its approach to the crisis as expert understanding of the virus improved. It also failed to coordinate the efforts of health officials, reducing the effectiveness of the federal response.
The 218-page report blames former president Donald Trump personally for the politicization of the federal Covid response, which it says contributed to the spread of misinformation that ultimately cost thousands of lives:
"Much of the phenomenon of coronavirus misinformation can be traced to President Trump and his efforts to politicize the pandemic. In addition to treating the coronavirus crisis as a political problem, the former President pushed lies about risks posed by the virus and took steps to undermine the scientists who were working to address America’s worst public health crisis in a century. …
"The former President’s spread of falsehoods became even more insidious as the pandemic continued. … The former President repeatedly advocated for the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus and claimed at one point that a study finding hydroxychloroquine ineffective as a coronavirus treatment was authored by 'people that aren’t big Trump fans.' He frequently attacked those who were willing to contradict his lies …
“Research has … found direct causal links between the former President’s lies about the pandemic and the spread of misinformation. A study at Cornell University analyzed 38 million articles about the pandemic in English-language media around the world and concluded that President Trump was the single largest driver of coronavirus misinformation between January 1 and May 26, 2020. The researchers found that President Trump’s promotion of ‘miracle cures’ like hydroxychloroquine significantly contributed to the spread of misinformation. By feeding the public falsehoods about the coronavirus and coronavirus treatments, the former President made it more difficult for Americans to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources of health information. This also made it harder for Americans to know how to protect themselves and their loved ones from the coronavirus, ultimately threatening the health of the American people.”
The report also faults the Trump administration’s economic relief efforts during the pandemic. “Poor implementation and oversight of federal aid programs, combined with unscrupulous private actors, led to significant waste, fraud, and abuse and a less effective pandemic response,” the report says.
Republicans reject the report’s findings: Steve Scalise (R-LA), the ranking member on the committee, said the report was purely political, citing conservative theories that fell outside the analysis. “Democrats refused to investigate after we exposed the Biden White House manipulating the science to allow a radical teachers union to rewrite CDC guidance so they could make it easier to shut down schools,” Scalise said. “They refused to investigate the origins of COVID-19 and efforts by Dr. [Anthony] Fauci to downplay the Wuhan lab leak theory.”
Senate report also faults Trump response, public health system: In a separate report released Thursday, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs provided its own analysis of the crisis, which also finds extensive fault with the Trump administration’s response, as well as with the nation’s public health system more broadly.
Among its many findings, the 242-page report says the U.S. failed for years to invest sufficiently in public health infrastructure, resulting in “inadequate, antiquated, and fragmented” surveillance and production systems. Once the crisis arrived, government communications were “inconsistent and sometimes contradictory,” delaying a coherent response.
"The suffering that was caused by the pandemic" was "not inevitable," committee chair Gary Peters (D-MI) said. "We could have handled this situation a whole lot differently."
What comes next? Both reports provide extensive recommendations for how to improve the federal government’s preparation for and response to the next crisis. Those recommendations include increasing investment in public health infrastructure such as testing and surveillance; better defining lines of authority and communication within the federal government; and boosting domestic productive capacities for essential medical equipment.
“The coronavirus crisis will not be the last public health emergency or economic crisis that we confront,” Clyburn warned.