FACT CHECK: Did the Trump administration fire the entire pandemic team? Well, sort of

April 5, 2020

Claim No. 1: The Trump Administration fired the entire pandemic response team

Claim No. 2: The Trump Administration cut funding to anti-pandemic efforts

Following criticism surrounding the United States’ response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump came under fire for allegedly firing the United States of America’s pandemic response team. 

The claim was populated by Popular Information’s Judd Legum, who tweeted that Trump “fired the entire pandemic response team” before failing to replace them. The tweet, accompanied by a chart illustrating the increasing statewide presence of coronavirus COVID-19, continued by claiming Trump went so far as to eliminate the positions. 

But how much of Legum’s tweet is true?

In 2018, then-Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biothreats Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer abruptly departed the National Security Council. In an attempt to reorganize for the sake of “streamlining,” John Bolton abolished Ziemer’s abandoned position and dissolved his team.

One month earlier, Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert, who the Washington Post reported “called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks,” resigned from his position as Bolton prepared to assume power. However, NBC News later reported that Bossert was fired. 

Former Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense in NSC Beth Cameron indirectly reinforced Legum’s stance. 

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Cameron wrote that the White House “dissolved the office,” subsequently leaving the United States underprepared for the emergence of a pandemic. 

Cameron wrote: “When President Trump took office in 2017, the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact.

“Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic. One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like COVID-19.”

However, current Republican political adviser Tim Morrisson defended Bolton’s claim that the decision to dismantle Ziemer’s team was an attempt to consolidate positions.

“It is true that the Trump administration has seen fit to shrink the NSC staff,” wrote Morrisson. “But the bloat that occurred under the previous administration clearly needed a correction. … One such move at the NSC was to create the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, which was the result of consolidating three directorates into one, given the obvious overlap between arms control and nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction terrorism and global health and biodefense. It is this reorganization that critics have misconstrued or intentionally misrepresented. If anything, the combined directorate was stronger because related expertise could be commingled” 

John Bolton echoed Morrisson’s description. In a March 14 tweet, Bolton described attacks on the NSC merging departments as “false,” claiming that, despite the consolidations, global health remained a national priority.

“Claims that streamlining NSC structures impaired our nation’s bio defense are false,” tweeted Bolton. “Global health remained a top NSC priority, and its expert team was critical to effectively handling the 2018-19 Africa Ebola crisis. The angry Left just can’t stop attacking, even in a crisis.” 

In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Chuck Schumer claimed that the Trump administration cut Obama-era health measures aimed at preventing the spread of global pandemics. Schumer’s claim–which asserted that the “CDC was forced to reduce the number of countries from 49 to 10”–was later adopted by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, though Murphy subscribed to different figures. 

“President Obama set up anti-pandemic programs in 47 vulnerable countries, as a way to protect against something just like Coronavirus breaking out across the world,” Murphy wrote. “Experts begged Trump to keep them open. He closed 37 of them.”

While it’s true that the Trump administration planned to slash funding to the CDC’s global disease outbreak program, the agenda came in anticipation of exhausted resources.

The CDC told Factcheck.org that the funds allotted to the Global Health Security Agenda, a 2014 pact agreed upon by 60 nations, served as a one-time, five-year agreement designating $600 million toward the cause. According to the CDC, that amount ran out in September of 2019. 

As a consequence of dwindling funds, Wall Street Journal reported that the director of the CDC’s Center for Global Health stated that the Division of Global Funding would need to “scale its global health security portfolio to focus efforts based on existing resources.”

Due to limited financial resources, the CDC planned to invest its focus toward 10 “priority” countries, suspending their efforts in 39 additional countries. However, such cuts were avoided once Congress provided the CDC’s global health program with additional funding. 

On March 14, the Democratic National Committee criticized Trump, interrogating a Feb. 26 remark by President Trump. At the time, Trump said, “Some of the people were cut, they haven’t been used for many years. And if–if we ever need them, we can get them very quickly. And rather than spending the money — and I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”

However, the remark came in response to a question about proposed cuts to funding for the CDC, WHO and National Institute of Health, proposals the administration hasn’t yet pursued. 

Verdict: It’s true that the Trump administration dissolved the team dedicated to halting the progression of global pandemics. It’s also true that the Trump administration failed to replace departing experts. However, while competing narratives exist over whether Bossert resigned or was forced out, the remainder of the team “abruptly left” or was combined with adjacent agencies. Therefore, the claim contending Trump “fired the entire pandemic team” is false. 

Furthermore, Democrats such as Schumer and Murphy mischaracterized the efficiency and finality of proposed cuts to various organizations, including the CDC. 

Conflicting accounts emerged surrounding the motive behind abolishing the aforementioned positions and reducing funds to anti-pandemic efforts, thus skewing public perception. However, while the Trump administration entertained the idea of severing funding to the CDC, Congress later provided enough funding to avoid scaling back Obama-era measures enacted to protect the United States from a pandemic.

Enjoy this article? Read more by Matthew Rago:

FACT CHECK: Did the CDC reduce its COVID-19 death count?

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  • M

    MikeSep 19, 2020 at 10:21 am

    So when Nancy was in Chinatown told us to come down, and the health experts were saying we don’t have to wear masks and when Cuomo said we’re New Yorkers and we should not worry. And when Biden said that stopping flights from other countries was xenophobic! I realize no one is perfect but state all the facts. If China was more transparent do you think this could have helped the world? Monday morning quarterbacking is a cop out and they had input they should have it in the beginning.

  • B

    Barbara J. Balog, Ph.D.Aug 16, 2020 at 9:52 am

    If you are part of Northeastern Illinois University, why doesn’t you primary URL INCLUDE “edu”.

  • B

    BillAug 7, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    If I said:
    I don’t have a car. I don’t drive. So stop taking my rights. Fire the whole DOT. I don’t want them. Stop taking my freedom for transportation I do not consent.
    Should the entire country stop building roads?
    This has unfortunately become politicized. Are we that petty – that we have to automatically be against something because Obama supported it or Trump supported it? We are going down a self-destructive path if this does not stop.
    We need to stop politicizing every issue that comes up.

  • C

    CarolJul 4, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    you are splitting hairs on whether Trump disbanded them or they “suddenly left” Try to spin it how you want that it was combining sever threats as terrorism pandemics, weapons of mass destruction (eye roll) please ! Like we are stupid ? What in the world does a pandemic have to do with WMD you think a lifetime immunologist needs to be involved in something that is not his speciality, and take him away from focusing 100% on pandemics. People they knew this was coming YEARS ago !! That is why we had a pandemic team in the first place. When something that can cause upwards of hundred of thousands of deaths I think it is something pretty important to have specialists in place well before and at the time.

    Someone that said “stop trading my freedom for safety I do not consent” is ridiculous. It is not like the virus knows which ones want to die and which ones want to be safe. So it is make everyone save or put the lives at the whole nation at risk. It is not about the choice of 5% to endanger the lives of 400,000 US deaths. Sir, you have the FREEDOM to go sit in the waiting room of an ER and expose yourself to Corona and get sick and die. Is that the freedom you speak of ? People act like the US is asking SO MUCH !!! good grief ! They are trying to people from gathering in large groups and wearing masks in EVERY country that has Corona as bad as the US. For some reason, the idiots that say it is assaulting their freedoms are only making an issue of this in the United States. It is a WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC we are all trying to stay healthy and alive.

    We would not still be in this mess if we had a pandemic task force AND our Delusional president had taken actions 3 weeks earlier when it first hit the country, we could have let it die out by staying in for 2 weeks. Instead everyone was allowed to spread the virus for 3 more weeks before we all stopped to shelter in place.

  • J

    JacobApr 5, 2020 at 8:20 pm

    Stop taking my rights ,fire the whole pandemic team I don’t want them , stop trading my freedom for safety I do not consent

  • L

    Lemesa HambisaApr 5, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    God help America from corona virus!

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