- In the days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing Obama administration officials trained his incoming administration on how to deal with a pandemic.
- Politico said it obtained documents from the meeting and spoke with more than a dozen people who attended the training, which was described as “weird” at best.
- One member of Trump’s Cabinet, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, reportedly dozed off, and others questioned why they had to be there.
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When President Donald Trump visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month as coronavirus cases accelerated in the US, he said that “you can never really think” that something like this might happen.
But it turns out the Obama administration did think this was something Trump could face in office and took steps to brief his appointees on how to respond to an outbreak before he took over in 2017.
Politico reported on Monday that it obtained documents from that legally mandated training and spoke with more than a dozen attendees, from the Obama and Trump administration sides.
Obama officials, they said, explained what the Trump administration would have to do when faced with a pandemic. The model scenario was similar to the coronavirus outbreak: an outbreak that crops up in Asia, spreads to the US, and exposes problems like shortages of ventilators and antiviral drugs.
While most of the Trump administration officials paid attention, others tuned out and questioned why they had to be there, Politico’s sources said.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was said to have dozed off at points during the three-hour training.
A senior Obama administration official said Ross and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were “especially dismissive in conversations on the sidelines of the session.”
(A representative for Ross denied that he fell asleep, saying he “found the meeting quite interesting and informative.” DeVos’ representative said that “this is nothing more than a hit piece with no basis in reality.”)
“There were people who were there who said, ‘This is really stupid and why do we need to be here,'” the senior Obama administration told Politico.
When asked whether any information from the session made its way to the president-elect, a former senior Trump administration official wasn’t sure. But they told Politico that hypotheticals like that were not “the kind of thing that really interested the president very much.”
“He was never interested in things that might happen. He’s totally focused on the stock market, the economy, and always bashing his predecessor and giving him no credit,” the source said. “The possibility things were things he didn’t spend much time on or show much interest in.”
The Trump administration has faced strong criticism for its handling of the outbreak, from a lack of testing kits to Trump’s repeated misstatements at press conferences.
As Politico pointed out, one of the challenges of the training was that Trump’s appointees largely did not have government experience.
“The problem is that they came in very arrogant and convinced that they knew more than the outgoing administration — full swagger,” another former Obama administration official told Politico.
Another issue is that the administration’s high turnover means that about two-thirds of the people who attended the training had left the White House by the time of the coronavirus outbreak.
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