❮ Return to Our Work

Op-Ed | The Daily Beast | March 13, 2020

Trump is Screwing Up His Response to the Coronavirus. House Democrats are Screwing Up their Response to Trump.

Congressional Oversight

See article on the original site.

Trump’s coronavirus speech proves, once and for all, that the emperor is never going to put on clothes. 

We have a government without anyone meaningfully in charge of anything other than making Trump and his cronies rich. Banning flights from Europe (and excluding the United Kingdom, where the health minister(!) has tested positive for the novel coronavirus and is self-isolating) indicates Trump’s xenophobia is now guided by throwing darts.

And as surreal as every botched stage of this administration’s response has been, none of it should come as a surprise. Trump was never going to rise to this moment and save us. Anyone who believed otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

Many would be forgiven, however, for continuing to hope that House Democrats, that supposedly fierce opposition force, might rise to the occasion. True, they’ve failed to hold this administration accountable at almost every turn that doesn’t involve Joe Biden, avoiding confrontation on the issue that matters most: how Trump’s corrupt and incompetent machinations are hurting you, me, and almost every other person in this country. But this case is so egregious, with such wide-reaching consequences across the breadth of the population, that Democrats couldn’t possibly continue to withhold fire, right? 

Wrong. In the face of legendary incompetence and contempt, the House Democratic majority has continued to shy away from holding this president and his administration accountable. It’s past time they acted like a real opposition party. House Democrats have enormous leverage as the gatekeepers for much of the stimulus package Trump sketched out Wednesday evening, and on which the success of his re-election bid likely hinges. And, of course, the health and well-being of the nation.

Until Wednesday, Trump had acted for weeks as though nothing was wrong, afraid that acknowledging the scope of the coronavirus problem might spook Wall Street. Yet, even as lawmakers heard from public health experts about the need to prepare and saw the administration bungling that essential task, they were slow to act. House Democrats didn’t hear from administration officials for the first time directly until Feb. 26. And despite officials’ pitiful, confused, and downright reprehensible responses, additional hearings were slow to follow. 

Why won’t House Democrats operate like a normal opposition party?

Even after the administration chose to acknowledge that there was a problem, the response has been pitifully slow and weak. While other countries have successfully tested hundreds of thousands of people for the disease, the U.S. has tested a few thousand. Without widespread testing, we can’t know how it’s spreading or how fatal it is. 

Congress has failed to force this information into the public eye. Sure, lawmakers sent letters, but they did not use their real power—the power of the purse—to force compliance. Emergency funding could have been contingent on assurances of greater transparency. Instead, House Democrats helped hand the administration a win without concessions that would have ensured they weren’t just throwing good money after bad.

Why won’t House Democrats operate like a normal opposition party?

Even as tests slowly became more widely available, CDC guidance limited their reach. Doctors were instructed only to test those who had traveled to endemic areas or who had had contact with people who had tested positive for the coronavirus. Doctors complained that they had to turn away patients who were displaying symptoms consistent with the virus. Epidemiologists pointed to evidence that the virus was rapidly spreading well beyond the initial at-risk populations. Inattentive Trump appointees have apparently left U.S. laboratories without sufficient supplies necessary to extract (and thus test) genetic material from any virus in a patient’s sample..

Congress could have elevated these voices while pursuing additional whistleblowers. Trump may have shown himself to be a particularly obstinate counterpart, but Congress still can  influence his administration’s behavior. House Democrats could use their podiums to give, say, Seattle-area health care workers a platform. Wouldn’t a television-obsessed administration have loosened testing guidelines sooner had they faced televised scrutiny?

Why won’t House Democrats operate like a normal opposition party?

Having felt little pressure to do better, is it any surprise that this administration’s missteps continue? A week after Vice President Mike Pence promised that a million tests would soon be available, the U.S. has only administered several thousand. No one knows the exact number because, incredibly, the CDC is not tracking this critical statistic. Meanwhile, patients continue to complain that they cannot access tests and labs are warning that they will soon run out of critical materials. And Trump just offers happy talk on testing in his shambolic address to the nation.  

So why, despite the crushing weight of evidence that this administration still is not even close to having this crisis under control, are House Democrats working diligently to trade away the leverage they have to perform oversight by putting together a stimulus package without meaningful demands for openness? Democrats must make clear that, without real concessions on transparency, they will not come to Trump’s rescue. Democrats can and should mandate a progressive response that does not waste this crisis, rather than tinkering with Trump’s regressive plans.

Trump may be callous and stubborn, but he is also power-hungry and knows that his chances in November rest on the state of the economy. His administration’s incompetence won’t change without transparency. Democrats cannot be afraid to use leverage to oversee, and thus improve, this administration’s response.

Why won’t House Democrats operate like a normal opposition party?

Over the last year, House Democrats have insisted over and over again that they are not interested in attacking Trump but in offering remedies for the basic problems in people’s everyday lives. They consistently miss, however, how Trump is a threat to regular people’s lives and livelihoods and how Congress’ refusal to take him on allows those attacks to proceed unchecked. As Trump’s incompetence allows coronavirus to overtake the country, will Democrats finally catch on, and start operating like the normal opposition party we desperately need?

Congressional Oversight

Related Articles

More articles by Eleanor Eagan More articles by Jeff Hauser

❮ Return to Our Work