Trump and his aides belittled and resisted various lifesaving public health measures. The book reports that Marc Short, a veteran Trump aide who was then serving as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, opposed a plan to send free masks to every household, on the grounds that it would alarm the public. Senior Trump officials ridiculed masks, likening them to a “training bra” or “underwear on your face.” Short also opposed the economic shutdown that slowed the spread of the virus in March and April 2020. And on the rare occasions when Trump pushed subordinates to move more quickly, he did so for personal advantage, not public health: In the fall, according to the book, he tried to oust FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn for refusing to strong-arm FDA scientists into approving COVID vaccines before Election Day.
One anecdote reported in the book is more significant than it might seem. In late March 2020, Robert Kadlec, a senior HHS official, went to Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a plan to mass-distribute masks. When Kushner learned that the masks wouldn’t arrive until June, he exploded. “We’ll all be dead by June,” he told Kadlec. In the Post’s retelling, this conversation comes across as a tale of delay and frustration. But it’s worse than that. It shows how gravely Kushner and others in the White House privately viewed the crisis, while Trump was telling Americans that the virus would soon disappear.