Two newly surfaced memos show that White House adviser Peter Navarro began sounding the alarm about the coming coronavirus disaster in the US in late January. Both memos were circulated in the West Wing and at various federal agencies, though it is not clear whether President Trump was shown either one. The New York Times and Axios are reporting on both of them:
- Jan. 29: "The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil," Navarro wrote in a memo addressed to the National Security Council. "This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans." In a worst-case scenario, he cited 500,000 American deaths. He also called for "an immediate travel ban on China."
- Feb. 23: In this memo, Navarro warned of an "increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls." He also said Congress would need to act fast on financial help. "This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill." This memo was addressed to President Trump, though it's not clear whether he ever saw it.
- Next moves: On the same day as the January memo, Trump named a coronavirus task force led by VP Mike Pence. Trump also put restrictions in place on travel from China, as Navarro recommended. Both the Times and Axios, however, point out that Trump's public comments around the time of both memos did not acknowledge the scope of the threat Navarro was laying out. Navarro's second memo seems to have been aimed at members of the task force who were skeptical of moving aggressively, per the Times.
- One view: Axios talks to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who faults the "naivete, arrogance and ignorance" of (unnamed) White House advisers who disagreed with Navarro and prevented his views from reaching Trump. "In this Kafkaesque nightmare, nobody would pay attention to him or the facts." The Times notes that Navarro is a hardliner on China and that it's possible others were skeptical of his alarm because of that.
(Navarro clashed with Dr. Anthony Fauci
over the weekend on how aggressively an anti-malarial drug should be used.)