On Tuesday morning, Barack Obama criticized Trump’s rollback of fuel standards in a tweet that made what appears to be a backhanded critique of Trump’s response to the coronavirus. “We’ve seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic,” Obama said.
Who exactly was Obama talking about there? Now, it’s quite possible he was actually talking about himself, seeing as how even after the H1N1 pandemic that claimed as many as 18,000 American lives, according to CDC estimates, Obama’s response to the Ebola pandemic later in his presidency was similarly wrought with problems–so much so that even the Obama White House and the CDC acknowledged there were multiple “shortcomings” in the administration’s response. Those shortcomings may have been the result of Obama axing the White House pandemic response office in 2009, which was reinstated in 2016 specifically because of his administration’s poor response to the Ebola pandemic.
But, let’s not kid ourselves. Obama rarely took responsibility for his failures, and he certainly wasn’t owning up to them in his tweet. Obama was joining the chorus of anti-Trumpers blaming him–not China–for the coronavirus pandemic.
The likely source of Obama’s accusation was a Washington Post hit piece earlier this month that claimed intelligence agencies issued warnings about a possible pandemic back in January and February, “while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action” that might have slowed the spread of the coronavirus. This allegation was easily debunked by the facts. The Trump administration acted quickly and decisively after China reported the discovery of the coronavirus to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019.
The Trump administration issued a travel notice for Wuhan, China, and established a coronavirus incident management system within the first week. Soon after, public health entry screening was put in place at the three U.S. airports receiving the most travelers from Wuhan. By Januray 20, the National Institutes of Health was already working on the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Does this sound like an administration that was “ignoring warnings of a pandemic”? Three days later, the CDC sought a “special emergency authorization” from the FDA to allow states to use its newly developed coronavirus test. Before the end of the month, the coronavirus was declared a public health emergency and Trump banned travel with China to slow the spread of the virus in the United States–that decision alone is credited with saving thousands of lives.
Now, let’s compare that with how Obama handled the H1N1 pandemic. The H1N1 outbreak originated in Mexico, but, the Obama administration refused to restrict travel with Mexico or close the border, despite calls to do so. “Closing our nation’s borders is not merited here,” said Obama’s DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano when a national health emergency was declared. She argued that closing the border or U.S. ports would have “no impact or very little” in stopping or slowing the spread of the virus.
On the same day the Obama administration declared H1N1 a public health emergency, Obama went golfing.
Imagine if Trump went golfing the same day the coronavirus was declared a public health emergency.
H1N1, according to Obama, was cause for concern but “not a cause for alarm.” The virus went on to infect 60.8 million Americans, resulting in 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths, according to CDC estimates. Obama didn’t even declare a national emergency until October 2009. By then, millions of Americans were already infected and a thousand had died.
But it was Trump who “ignored warnings of a pandemic,” he says.
His apparently lackadaisical attitude towards the H1N1 pandemic resulted in a botched response plagued by vaccine shortages.
The New York Times reported in January 2010 that the Obama administration “predicted in early summer  that it would have 160 million vaccine doses by late October,” but that “it ended up with less than 30 million,” leading to a public outcry and congressional investigations.
Obama’s failure undoubtedly cost lives. A study by Purdue University scholars published on October 15, 2009, determined that the H1N1 vaccine would arrive “too late to help most Americans who will be infected during this flu season.” The study determined that the CDC’s planned vaccination campaign would “likely not have a large effect on the total number of people ultimately infected by the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus.”
Adding to Obama’s hypocrisy is the fact that he repeatedly sought millions of dollars in cuts to the CDC and ignored three government reports warning about the lack of medical supplies in hospitals and the Strategic National Stockpile–which, by the way, was depleted by the Obama administration in 2009 and never replenished.
Perhaps Obama should put a lid on his criticisms of Trump. Not just because he’s repeating falsehoods, but because he’s the one who was blindsided by two pandemics.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis