WASHINGTON – A Democrat-led congressional panel investigating the federal government's response to the coronavirus slammed the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic "as among the worst failures of leadership in American history."
The scathing 71-page report concluded that a global crisis that has killed nearly 230,000 Americans and infected some 9 million more (including President Donald Trump) was exacerbated by political interference, favoritism and neglect that invited government fraud, disenfranchised poor communities and denied federal aid to millions.
“Today's report exhaustively documents what has long been clear: the Trump Administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been a tragic failure," the panel's chair, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told reporters on a conference call Friday. "Yesterday, our country recorded the largest number of cases in a single day since the pandemic began – nearly 90,000. More than nine months since the deadly virus landed on our shores, it is inexcusable that it continues to spread unabated."
The panel, known officially as the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, spent the past six months holding more than a dozen hearings, reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, and interviewing senior administration officials, experts in public health and economics, and Americans personally impacted by the pandemic.
Among it's conclusions:
As late as last month, some 9 million Americans had yet to receive their Economic Impact Payments that Congress approved to help people weather the crisis.
Bankers said the Treasury Department encouraged them to prioritize small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to "existing" customers, a situation that benefitted larger firms at the expense of smaller and minority-owned stores during the first round of assistance payments.
Top administration officials, including the president, have "improperly interfered" with the government's response more than 60 times by pressuring health experts to adopt the administration’s talking points, sidelining officials for sharing accurate scientific information with the public, altering or suppressing guidance and scientific reports on testing, protecting children, reopening schools, voting safely, and other topics, and promoting questionable virus treatments over the objections of scientists.
Trump continues to insist the U.S. is "rounding the corner" on the coronavirus and has derided mask mandates and other COVID restrictions, even as the U.S. death rate has edged back up to about 800 Americans per day, a level not seen in more than a month.
Since Sept. 1, the president and key Oval Office figures have violated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on the coronavirus at least 27 times, ignoring recommendations on mask-wearing, social distancing, quarantining and more.
And his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, acknowledged Sunday that the administration won't be able to do much about the spread of COVID-19, and is focusing on cures instead.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic," Meadows told CNN's "State of the Union."
The congressional report is a compilation of problems and challenges the administration has faced in responding to the virus, most of which have been made public. It recommends the administration adopt "a coordinated national plan" to tackle the pandemic and support Democratic-backed legislation to provide a fifth round of widespread relief to Americans and local governments.
The PPP program for small business encountered problems when it was first rolled out in the early spring. Thousands of loans meant for small businesses bludgeoned by the pandemic were awarded improperly to firms that already had received a PPP loan or were barred from doing business with the federal government.
Critics point to the lack of oversight in a program where lenders – not the Small Business Administration – were deciding who was eligible and which businesses to prioritize. Steps have been taken by the administration after the initial rollout to fix many of those problems.
The program, which has doled out more than 5.2 million loans totaling some $525 billion, has largely been praised as a lifesaver for small businesses around the country despite instances of fraud and misuse.
In another example of the administration's missteps cited by the committee, the administration had to withhold a proposed $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak Co. to produce pharmaceutical drugs after the deal came under congressional and regulatory scrutiny.
In August, the panel investigated the loan because "the company lacked any pharmaceutical experience and its executives and directors reaped huge stock windfalls before the deal was announced."
Established in April, the coronavirus panel has been compared to the effort to the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, created in 1941 by then-Sen. Harry Truman who was concerned that mismanagement and corruption among industrial contractors would hamper America’s war effort.
The Truman Committee, as it became known, conducted hundreds of hearings, held field inspections across the country, and saved millions in cost overruns.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID: Congressional panel blasts Trump admin.'s coronavirus response