Trump's Promises Remain Largely Unfulfilled A Month After Emergency Declaration

Apr 13, 2020
Originally published on April 13, 2020 9:31 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump declared a state of national emergency one month ago in the Rose Garden.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We've been working very hard on this. We've made tremendous progress. When you compare what we've done to other areas of the world, it's pretty incredible.

KELLY: He was joined by national retailers and major medical testing companies. Trump said he would combine the power of the private sector with the federal government to fight the pandemic. But in the month that has followed, in many cases, grand projects and aspirations have led to aborted attempts or small pilot projects as the number of coronaviruses cases in the U.S. continues to rise. NPR's Washington investigative correspondent Tim Mak has more.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: The Rose Garden address on March 13 started with grave news.

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TRUMP: To unleash the full power of the federal government through this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency - two very big words.

MAK: But the president promised a sweeping national effort that would meet the challenge, one of the opening salvos against the virus. Joined by leaders from Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and Target, the president said that wheels were in motion for drive-through testing at their locations.

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TRUMP: We've been in discussions with pharmacies and retailers to make drive-through tests available in the critical locations identified by public health professionals.

MAK: But there has been no widespread implementation of drive-through testing, according to an NPR investigations team effort to look into each of Trump's claims in that address. One month later, the four national retailers have opened a grand total of eight sites. The big-box retailer Target has not opened any and says that it is not involved in a formal partnership with the federal government. The president also said that Google was working on a website that would provide screening, point users to a nearby drive-through testing location and then send test results.

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TRUMP: Google is helping to develop a website to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location.

MAK: Google was never working on such a project; Verily, another company owned by Google's parent company, was. The result was a pilot project that opened six sites and is only available to California residents in five counties. Jeremy Konyndyk is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development and a former Obama administration official focused on disaster relief.

JEREMY KONYNDYK: What we've seen repeatedly, I think, out of this administration is a desire to shift responsibility for key elements of the response off of itself and off of the federal government and onto other actors, whether that's the states, whether that's the private sector, and kind of hold them up as the solution.

MAK: The president did follow through on a couple of his promises on items the federal government had exclusive control over. Trump pledged to waive interest on student loans held by government agencies. He did that, but there were exceptions. For example, he pledged to waive rules and allow doctors to operate in states other than where they were licensed. But that's a state issue and not something he has the power to change.

Another pledge that the president made during that Rose Garden address was to authorize testing companies to produce millions of tests.

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TRUMP: It'll go very quickly. It's going very quickly, which will bring, additionally, 1.4 million tests on board next week and 5 million within a month. I doubt we'll need anywhere near that.

MAK: Those companies have provided those tests to labs, but the United States has only conducted about 2 million tests, and that's because America doesn't lack lab testing. It is suffering from a shortage of swabs and vials to collect samples to then be sent to labs. The White House did not comment on this story, although some agencies provided context.

Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington.

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