Week In Politics: President Pauses In Epidemic To Gripe About Oversight

Apr 4, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Americans have been told to stay home through the end of April. We've also been told that America might prepare for hundreds of thousands of deaths in this pandemic. President Trump avails himself at the national podium of his Coronavirus Task Force briefings to score some old political points.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is not the time for politics, endless partisan investigations. He we go again. I've already done extraordinary damage to our country in recent years. You see what happens. It's witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And cover up as soon as we're done, OK?

ELVING: I will.

SIMON: Put the mask back on. Which witch hunt is the president referring to? Is he objecting to congressional oversight of legislation that, after all, would spend trillions of dollars?

ELVING: Sure looks like that's what he's objecting to. You remember last week, the $2 trillion Congress passed. They included a new inspector general in the Justice Department to provide some oversight. And in addition, two days ago, Speaker Pelosi said there would be a new House committee to oversee all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. There's also been talk of a 9/11 Commission kind of investigation into the time it took the U.S. to respond to the virus in January and February, and Speaker Pelosi did not rule that out this week. And the president might well see that as threatening. That's why we hear about witch hunts again.

We should add, speaking of inspectors general, late last night, the president fired the inspector general for the national intelligence community. That was Michael Atkinson, the person who last summer passed along the whistleblower complaint that led to the president's impeachment. So that sends a signal to watchdogs throughout the government.

SIMON: The president's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has no medical background or experience, was put in charge this week of making certain hospitals across the country get the equipment that they need. But it seemed at the press conference at which he appeared that he wasn't aware of the shortages.

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JARED KUSHNER: Very early this morning, I got a call from the president. He told me he was hearing from friends of his in New York that the New York public hospital system was running low on critical supply.

SIMON: Of course, now we've been hearing about that shortage for weeks, really, for hospitals that have been overrun with COVID-19 cases. Why has the president put his son-in-law, who, again, has no experience in this field, in charge of vital national business that, after all, affects millions of lives? People are dying.

ELVING: It is a tremendous question. All we can do is speculate that the president sees Jared Kushner as someone he completely trusts, a very select fraternity as it turns out. Whatever he may know about the job, whatever experience he may have or lack, the president expects him to do what is best for the president. And that is the highest qualification for the job.

SIMON: He's been in charge of other huge portfolios. Does he have a track record of success?

ELVING: He got some credit for the deal members of Congress struck on criminal justice reform a couple of years ago, yes. But the president has given him half a dozen other portfolios on government reorganization, the Middle East peace process, the wall on the southwestern border, immigration in general. It doesn't matter how much he actually achieves on any of these fronts, or apparently it doesn't matter. What matters is that Trump trusts him to report back and perform for him rather than for someone else in the government or someone else's agenda.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.