During the early stages of the pandemic, then-President Donald Trump was looking for ways not to bring infected Americans in Asia home for care and asked White House staff if sending them to Guantánamo Bay — where the United States holds terrorist suspects — was an option.
This is according to a new book by Washington Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta called “Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History.”
“Don’t we have an island that we own?” the president reportedly asked during a February 2020 meeting in the Situation Room, “What about Guantánamo?”
“We import goods,” Trump reportedly said to his staff. “We are not going to import a virus.”
When the president reportedly asked the same question again, stunned aides quickly squashed the idea because of fears of a public backlash over sending sick Americans to Guantánamo.
Trump and then-chief of staff Mick Mulvaney also reportedly tried to fire a State Department official who let 14 Covid-19-positive Americans who had been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan travel home to America. But senior officials disagreed with the attempted firing, and Trump and Mulvaney “gave up” after a while. The official’s decision to let the Americans return may have ultimately saved their lives, however, as they flew out on the last available flight to the U.S. But Trump was angry because at the time there were only 14 other cases of Covid-19 in the country, leading the president to complain that it “doubles my numbers overnight.”
The book, which according to the Post, draws on interviews with more than 180 people including multiple White House senior staff members and government health leaders, says Trump even complained that the CDC had developed a test for Covid-19 because the number of positive tests would reflect poorly on his administration.
“Testing is killing me!” Trump reportedly yelled at then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a March 18th call, “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?”
“Uh, do you mean Jared?” Azar responded, according to the Post, referring to Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who just days earlier announced he would take charge of the country’s testing strategy by working with the private sector. These comments echo Trump’s public remarks during the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, Trump tweeted that testing “makes us look bad” and told reporters, “When you test, you create cases.”
The chaos and disorder of the Trump administration’s response led the book’s authors to determine that: “Ultimately, there was no accountability, and the response was rudderless.”