HHS wanted to send a special coronavirus funding request to Congress but the White House budget office resisted for weeks, insisting that HHS should instead repurpose $250 million of its existing budget to bolster the national stockpile by buying protective equipment. HHS, however, claimed that without congressional authorization it could not buy the needed quantities of masks, gowns and ventilators to rapidly bolster the national stockpile

Eventually, an initial request went to Congress for $2.5 billion in virus aid, an amount that lawmakers of both parties dismissed as too low. The bill that Congress quickly passed and Trump signed — the first of three so far — was for $8 billion.

Even as the two agencies fought, there was no influential voice in Trump’s orbit pushing him to act swiftly on the pandemic. Trump had surrounded himself with loyalists and few in the administration, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, were able to redirect the president’s attention. In mid-January, meetings were being held at the White House, but the focus was on getting U.S. government employees back from China, which was still playing down how contagious the virus was.

A Jan. 29 memo from senior White House aide Peter Navarro accurately predicted some of the challenges faced by the U.S. from what would become a pandemic, though he was hardly the first to sound the alarm. But he, like Pottinger, was viewed by others in the White House as a “China hawk” and their concerns were rejected by others in the administration who did not bring them to the president.