Yesterday, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services published a study summarizing interviews with 323 hospitals. The study confirmed that hospitals are desperately short of personal protective equipment, and have been unable get coronavirus test results for patients. The details in the 40-page report are horrifying, though hardly unfamiliar to anybody who has followed news reports or the pleas of doctors and nurses on social media. Medical staff are unprotected and exposed to infected patients, shipments of gear from Washington have been haphazard, test results take seven days or more, and so on.
The purpose of such reports is to identify problems so that policy-makers can take corrective action. It is fair to say that President Trump did not take the report in the earnest problem-solving spirit in which it was intended. Several journalists asked Trump about the report at his briefing yesterday. His responses grew increasingly hostile and disconnected from reality.
After the first question, even before the reporter could finish summarizing the report, Trump interjected, “Did I hear the word inspector general? Really? It’s wrong.” When told the source came from his own government, Trump began fishing around for evidence the report’s author was biased: “Well, where did he come from, the inspector general. What’s his name?”
Fifteen minutes later, another reporter followed up with the answer. “Her name was Christi Grimm and it wasn’t so much her opinion, but they interviewed 323 different hospitals — ” began a second reporter. Trump interjected, “It still could be her opinion. When was she appointed? When was she appointed?” ABC’s Jon Karl replied, “She was appointed in January of this year to her current position as the principal deputy inspector.”
Another reporter followed up: “I know you don’t want to talk about the inspector general report, but testing is still a big issue in this country. When can hospitals expect to receive a quick turnaround of its test results?” Trump replied by asserting that hospitals and states, not the federal government, are responsible for testing — “Hospitals can do their own testing also. States can do their own testing.” — before complaining that the reporter was mean to ask the question:
We have a brand-new testing system that we developed very quickly and that’s your result. And you should say, congratulations. Great job. Instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question.