Trump Didn’t Appoint a Coronavirus Czar Because He Feared Disloyalty

The president was reportedly worried about expanding the coronavirus task force outside his political circle.

Donald Trump Mike Pence attend a press conference at the White House on Feb. 29, 2020.Liu Jie/ZUMA

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

The Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus epidemic has been haphazard at best. The administration botched the handling of infected passengers on the cruise ship docked in Japan. A whistleblower has alleged that dozens of staffers from the Department of Health and Human Services who received the first Americans returning from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, were not equipped with proper protective gear or training. Officials have tried to downplay the risk of the epidemic even as new cases are reported in places like California, Washington State, and Chicago that aren’t linked to foreign travel.

Behind the scenes, according to the Washington Post, the administration has been scrambling to contain the damage. On Wednesday night, Trump made a last minute decision to tap Vice President Mike Pence to lead the White House virus task force. And Pence in turn appointed Debbie Birx, who heads the State Department’s US Global AIDS Coordinator and is also a doctor, to help with the response. But Birx should not be confused as the virus “czar.”

While other presidents, notably Barack Obama, have brought in outsiders with expertise to help coordinate government public health efforts—Obama tapped Ron Klain as his “Ebola czar”—Trump refused to delegate that sort of authority to someone outside the government or to a single individual well-versed in public health. Why? Because more than anything, Trump demands blind loyalty from those around him, the reason he has recently purged the White House of many staffers he believed weren’t sufficiently devoted to him. That singular focus on loyalty as opposed to expertise drove Trump’s decision to put Pence in charge. The Washington Post reports

Trump did not, however, name a single “czar,” as some previous administrations have done during health emergencies. The president decided against that option after worrying that bringing in a person from outside the administration might be seen as a failure — and wondering whether such a person would be loyal to him, according to those familiar with the debate.

Such calculations are the sorts of thing that allowed the coronavirus to spread in China. Nonetheless, Trump has continued to insist that everything his administration is doing is perfect.  “Our country is prepared for any circumstance,” Trump said at a Saturday press conference. “We hope it’s not going to be a major circumstance, it’ll be a smaller circumstance. But whatever the circumstances, we’re prepared.”

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate