White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was grilled Friday about a lingering question of its coronavirus response: Why didn’t it refill the national stockpile of medical supplies in the three years since President Donald Trump has been in office?
After McEnany repeated Trump’s frequent claim — that his predecessor Barack Obama left the “cupboards” bare of the strategic supply needed to fight a pandemic — she was then asked why the president didn’t act to refill it in the time he’s been in office.
While McEnany insisted that the president “immediately went into action” when it was necessary to get supplies for healthcare workers, NBC News Digital senior correspondent Shannon Pettypiece asked whether there was any effort to replenish the supply before January 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak began.
McEnany said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told her that “when we got to the federal government, we were on the brink, we were in very hostile confrontations with several powers because of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. And there were real bioterrorism threats. And that was there immediate threat that the administration focused on in terms of the stockpile.”
Earlier this month, ABC News’ David Muir asked Trump why the administration didn’t replenish the stockpile while he was in office.
“Well, to be honest, I have a lot things going on,” Trump responded. “We had a lot of people that refused to allow the country to be successful. They wasted a lot of time on Russia, Russia, Russia that turned out to be a total hoax. And then they did Ukraine, Ukraine, and that was a total hoax. Then they impeached the president of the United States for absolutely no reason.”
Trump’s claim that his predecessor left the stockpile depleted also has been challenged. Factcheck.org called it false, Politifact deemed it mostly false, and the Washington Post Fact Checker said it was misleading, with the caveat that Trump might have been referring to a lack of N95 masks specifically.
McEnany, though, tried to turn the focus to the Trump administration’s efforts this year, which she said were “extraordinary.” She insisted that they “transitioned as quickly as possible and filled the empty cupboards left by President Obama.”
The concerns over the administration’s preparedness took on new relevance this week after Rick Bright, a former official at the Department of Health and Human Services, testified before a congressional committee that his warnings in January and February of the need for ventilators, masks and other supplies went unheeded.
Chanel Rion, chief White House correspondent for One America News Network, known for its pro-Trump coverage, asked McEnany whether the Obama administration advised the Trump administration of the depletion of the national stockpile.
“It’s a really good question,” McEnany said. “Not to my knowledge. To my knowledge the two things President Obama warned about were North Korea and Michael Flynn. What I do know if this. The Obama administration wasn’t throwing ventilators into the stockpile. They were unmasking Lt. General Michael Flynn in the waning days of the administration.”
Flynn was Trump’s former national security adviser. The Justice Department recently moved to drop its prosecution of Flynn, even though he plead guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in late December, 2016. According to Trump, Flynn was fired just weeks into his term for lying about that conversation to Vice President Mike Pence and then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
But in recent days, Trump has tried to advance what he calls “Obamagate,” or the claim that his predecessor worked to undermine his administration via Flynn and the Russia investigation in general.
McEnany groused that there “hasn’t been a lot of journalistic curiosity” over the Flynn story. CBS News correspondent had asked her about Trump’s suggestion that people should be jailed over the Flynn prosecution. “What crime was committed and in what way?” Portnoy asked.
McEnany said that there were a number of questions that have been raised about the activities of the Obama administration, but specifically denounced a “criminal leak” to the press of Flynn’s call to Kislyak.
Earlier in the week, Trump was asked what crime his predecessor has committed, and he said, “You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours.”
But a number of reporters say that the story still lacks evidence that a crime was committed and that, as of now, it is more of a catchy name for a conspiracy theory.