Every day brought new challenges and controversies. The president has oversold business with companies to manufacture medical devices. He trumpeted potential cures that hadn’t been proven yet. The helpers asked incessant questions about medical supply shortages. All of them had to deal with an increasing number of fatalities.
This report of the past two weeks in the White House is based on over half a dozen interviews with employees and external consultants during this period, as well as previous reports from POLITICO. Together, the staff described a time of uncertainty and reassessment when the west wing focused entirely on a unique mission. They experienced historical moments from the center of power – that greatest One day jump in the Dow Jones Industrial Average; followed by his greatest One-day profit since 1933. You wondered what all this would mean for the election – would there be a personal vote in eight months? Is the campaign as we know it over?
In the meantime, Americans have grappled with their changing realities everywhere: will the way we celebrate, gather, and pray change forever? Are we going to be a more isolated society connected through video conferencing rather than face-to-face meetings?
“Should I be here at all?” a White House official said squeamishly after several senior officials were exposed to the virus and forced to stay at home.
The White House initiative “15 days to slow the spread” ends on Tuesday. The country will turn to Trump to tell people how long daily life will be paralyzed and how long they will be unemployed.
However, what he will say is still unknown.
- 1 THE BEGINNING: JANUARY 2
- 2 DAY 1: MARCH 16
- 3 DAY 3: MARCH 18
THE BEGINNING: JANUARY 2
US cases: 0
Deaths in the United States: 0
Stock exchange: 28,868.80
As with many Americans, the scale of the situation in the White House did not initially appear.
As early as January 2, Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contacted the National Security Council to discuss an evolving situation in China related to a respiratory disease that, according to a, is not yet a novel coronavirus White House timeline checked by POLITICO. China reported its first death from the virus ten days later.
Then it spread like a dry brush fire.
The first coronavirus case in the U.S. was confirmed on January 21. Days later, the president developed a task force to address the potential spread. However, the president and his advisers publicly claimed that the situation was under control since the president cut off most trips from China in early February.
Internally, some White House officials monitoring the overseas situation were frustrated that the virus had been shaken off by senior officials, including the president. Reducing travel from China is not enough, they argued. They urged Trump to take more aggressive measures and cited forecasts that indicated that the United States could face a number of cases that mirror locations like Italy saw a sudden surge in mid-February.
Trump came in late February during an 18-hour return trip from India, where he had spent two days amid cheering crowds, miles away from coronavirus concerns. On the flight he saw the media coverage of the disease around the clock. According to incumbent chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Trump has not slept on the entire return trip.
Minutes after landing on the morning of February 26 in Washington, D.C., Trump tweeted that he would hold a briefing to address the situation. He hastily tapped Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the coronavirus task force and predicted that the number of coronavirus cases in the US would soon be “close to zero”.
The opposite has happened.
In early March, the president and his team recognized the writing on the wall, which was beset by concerns from allies across the country. There have now been over 1,000 cases in the United States. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The stock market collapsed and even stopped trading for 15 minutes on March 9 to avoid a market slump.
Trump and his team struggled to address the nation’s concerns in an Oval Office address – just the second Trump had ever done.
“If Trump doesn’t say tonight,” This is bad and could be very bad, you need to take all necessary precautions, “he can say goodbye for a second term,” said a government official at the time.
He didn’t say that. Instead, the president said in hastily arranged remarks that he would ban all travel from Europe and promised that health insurers would have agreed to cover all coronavirus treatments. Investors panicked – would the necessary cargo still be allowed to get to the United States? The insurers were surprised – they only agreed to cover coronavirus testing, not all treatments.
The White House hurried to clear up. The shares continued to fall.
moral on the ground in the White House.
A White House official said this was the week when everything changed. In addition to the president’s remarks on prime time and stock market breaks, the virus has unexpectedly upset America’s collective culture. Within minutes of that Wednesday night, Hollywood star Tom Hanks announced that he had tested positive for the virus. The NCAA March Madness tournament was canceled and the NBA suspended its season.
“This week, Democrats b.s.’s impeachment seems trivial,” quipped another White House official.
Daily life would not be the same.
Most of the United States would be closed within a week.
A week later, Congress would pass the largest economic recovery law ever drawn up.
This is how these two weeks in the White House felt.
DAY 1: MARCH 16
US cases: 6,400
Deaths in the United States: 83
Stock exchange: 20,188.52
The president and his team decided that dramatic measures were needed to curb the spread of the virus.
They had seen terrible new projections from Imperial College in London, which showed that millions would die if no more extreme measures were taken. The new data changed the behavior of the president.
On March 16, a Monday, the president announced new recommendations that Americans should not gather in groups larger than 10 – five times more extreme than the guidelines the CDC had introduced the previous day.
It was the beginning of the “15 days to slow the spread” of the White House.
“With several weeks of targeted action, we can go around the corner and turn it around quickly,” Trump said. “Our government is ready to do whatever it takes.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, a global health specialist to lead the Coronavirus Task Force’s efforts, appealed directly to the American people to follow the guidelines.
“We really want people to be separated at this point in order to be able to fully combat this virus, which we cannot see and for which we have no vaccine or therapeutic agent,” she warned.
The President sent Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to work out a stimulus plan with Congress to boost the economy. Mnuchin warned the Senate Republicans over lunch at Capitol Hill, but with foresight, act now or the US could see double-digit unemployment.
DAY 3: MARCH 18
US cases: 13,700
Deaths in the United States: 150
Stock exchange: 19,898.92
On Wednesday, the streets in major cities like San Francisco and New York began to empty.
In the White House, the presidential occupation had a new message: the country is at war.
“To date, no one has seen anything like it was possible in World War II,” Trump said on the press podium. “And now it’s our time. We have to sacrifice together because we’re all there and we’ll get through together.”
He invoked a war law – the Defense Production Act – that gave him extensive powers to instruct manufacturers to manufacture the equipment needed in a crisis. But he said it would only apply the law in a “worst case scenario”.
America was facing an invading, deadly, “invisible enemy,” Trump said.
The enemy was already inside the White House.
Members of the President’s inner circle have repeatedly been exposed to people with coronavirus. Several top employees, including Ivanka Trump and incumbent chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, had to isolate themselves.
Members of Congress closest to the President – including his new chief of staff, Mark Meadows – had to quarantine themselves. And even as the president began using the press conference room every day, his own press officer Stephanie Grisham was conspicuously missing. Like others in the White House who were exposed, she followed the same advice given on the podium: stay home.