In a Friday op-ed, Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, blasted Trump for comments such as “you can never really think” that a pandemic like the coronavirus “is going to happen.” She mentioned the 2017 session as one of many instances of the Obama administration’s efforts to help its successor be ready for such a challenge. She also slammed the Trump team for dismantling the National Security Council section that would play a lead role in organizing the U.S. response to a global pandemic.
…“Rather than heed the warnings, embrace the planning and preserve the structures and budgets that had been bequeathed to him, the president ignored the risk of a pandemic,” Rice wrote. …Trump, when recently asked about the reshuffling, called the question “nasty” and said, “I don’t know anything about it.”
…Trump administration’s fumbling of the coronavirus outbreak is partly rooted in how unprepared — and in some cases unwilling — it was to engage in transition exercises at all in late 2016 and early 2017.
…The emergency preparedness provisions were inspired by how George W. Bush handled his transition to Obama; that process, regarded as the gold standard for transition planning, included joint exercises on how to react to improvised explosive devices in cities. Bush had insisted on a detailed and highly coordinated transition planning in part because he felt scarred by the rushed transition he’d experienced from the Bill Clinton administration, not to mention having to deal with the Sept. 11 attacks during his first year. [Attacks which, admittedly could perhaps have been foreseen had the Bush administration bothered to look into warnings the Clinton administration had left for them on the subject of the probability of an attack by similar if no the same parties and take proactive approach.]
…Many of Trump’s personnel choices had little or no government experience, and the Obama aides were presenting massive troves of information to them about how a raft of agencies had to work together to respond to various crises.
…“The problem is that they came in very arrogant and convinced that they knew more than the outgoing administration — full swagger,” one former Obama administration official who attended said. [A syndrome which has hindered, if not sunk, many an administration, but very rarely to this degree and with this intensity of dire consequences.]
“There were people who were there who said, ‘This is really stupid and why do we need to be here,’” added another senior Obama administration official who attended, alleging that Ross and incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos were especially dismissive in conversations on the sidelines of the session.
…A former senior Trump administration official who attended the meeting couldn’t say for sure but noted that it wasn’t “the kind of thing that really interested the president very much.”
“He was never interested in things that might happen. He’s totally focused on the stock market, the economy and always bashing his predecessor and giving him no credit,” the person said. “The possibility things were things he didn’t spend much time on or show much interest in.
“Even though we would put time on the schedule for things like that, if they happened at all, they would be very, very brief,” the former official continued. “To get the president to be focused on something like this would be quite hard.”