White House Econ Loon Peter Navarro Wants To Be The Good Guy Here. NOPE.

With the bill coming due for the White House's spectacularly botched coronavirus response, the leaks have begun.

"Don't blame me," Trumplanders text frantically to their favorite reporters. "I tried to tell the old man what was coming, but no one would listen." And when that call comes, you know Maggie Haberman is there. In today's Edition of NOT IT, memos from White House economics crank Pater Navarro warning of the coming coronavirus pandemic magically found their way to Haberman and Axios's Jonathan Swan.

First, credit where it's due: Navarro seems to have grokked before most of the Trumpworld goons that COVID-19 was about to be a big fuckin' deal. In a January 29 memo to the National Security Council, Navarro postulated that "We face two stylized outcomes: A relatively modest, 'seasonal flu-like' outcome with relatively low rates of transmission and mortality versus a more deadly 'pandemic flu' such as witnessed with Asian, Hong Kong, and swine flus." While Trump was telling HHS Secretary Alex Azar to quit yammering about "caronavirus" and bring back those tasty mango Juul pods, Peter Navarro was warning that a highly contagious virus coming might cost the US economy $3.8 trillion and kill 500,000 Americans in a "No Containment/Pandemic scenario."

Unfortunately, he buried it in his usual annoying jargonese, and proposed the same ONE WEIRD TRICK he prescribes for every other problem on earth.

If the probability of a pandemic is greater than 1%, a game-theoretic analysis of the coronavirus indicates the clear dominant strategy is an immediate travel ban on China.

That's right, the guy who had just blundered us into a disastrous trade war wanted to fight the pandemic by kicking the shit out of China some more. Which is why everyone in the White House ignored Peter when he started ranting again about the Chinese wolf about to eat all America's sheep.

"The January travel memo struck me as an alarmist attempt to bring attention to Peter's anti-China agenda while presenting an artificially limited range of policy options," one source told Jonathan Swan. Axios even dug up Steve Bannon, who decried the "naiveté, arrogance and ignorance" of the National Security Council, which collectively rolled its eyes at Navarro and told him to quit jinxing the markets with that shit.

"In this Kafkaesque nightmare, nobody would pay attention to him or the facts," swooned Bannon, who is presumably quarantined in a bathtub full of Beefeater gin. You know, for anti-viral purposes.

And speaking of facts, let's compare and contrast these two passages describing the wisdom of Navarro's travel ban, shall we?

Here's Maggie Haberman at the Times:

Mr. Navarro was at odds with medical experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who had argued that such travel bans only delay the eventual spread.

Mr. Navarro alluded to that debate on Saturday during a separate argument with Dr. Fauci in the Situation Room about whether the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was effective in treating or preventing the virus, according to two people familiar with the events.

And here's Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev at Axios:

Our thought bubble: Axios' health care editor Sam Baker says Navarro's concern about the severity while acknowledging the speculative nature of modeling viruses was largely correct.

"These memos place a very big emphasis on banning travel specifically from China — which, of course, Trump did," Baker says. But by Jan. 29, there were confirmed cases in 15 countries, including the U.S.

"This is not to say they're a bad idea, only that this is why public-health experts don't lean as heavily on travel restrictions. People come into the U.S. from a lot of places, and with two globalized countries, simply stopping people coming in from Wuhan was not bad but it shouldn't be shocking that it was insufficient."

Hey, look! It's actually possible to do access journalism without swallowing as gospel what your source tells you and then bootstrapping that unchallenged credibility to undermine medical professionals and hype untested, potentially dangerous drug regimens. Who knew!

If Navarro's January 29 memo was intended for an audience familiar with terms like "R naught" and "antigenic shift," his February 23 "Memorandum to the President" was pitched squarely toward the Toddler Id in Chief.

"There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls," he began in his request for a $3 billion budget allocation. Then it was time to lay on the the flattery.

This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill. Uncertainties associated with developing a vaccine and viable treatment options should NOT slow down investment in these high, risk high reward ventures.
In this Administration, we take appropriate risks to protect the public. We move in Trump Time to solve problems.

We always skate where the puck might be — in this case a full-blown pandemic.

We CAN develop a vaccine and treatment therapeutics in half the usual time. We MUST get appropriate protective gear and point of care diagnostics.

Any member of the Task Force who wants to be cautious about appropriating funds for crisis that could inflict trillions of dollars in economic damage and take millions of lives has come to the wrong administration.

Oooooh, TOUGH GUY! But for all his talk about go fast, go big, or go home, this is the same guy who completely screwed the pooch on the medical supply chain. He's the one who was at the negotiating table when the deal with GM to retool its plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to make ventilators in partnership with Ventec fell through because the White House balked at the $1 billion price tag. Navarro may have been privately bragging about skating to the puck in February, but just last week he went on CNN and demanded credit for face masks made out of underpants and promises to get ventilators to market in June.

Keilar to Peter Navarro: You are wasting everyone's timewww.youtube.com

And for all his brown-nosing about "Trump Time," Navarro failed completely at getting the attention of the only person in the White House capable of greenlighting a virus response in January and February, when there was still time to avert a total catastrophe. On February 24, when the CDC reported 35 confirmed cases in the United States, Trump tweeted that the virus was "very much under control in the USA."

On February 25, he said in India, "You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it." Later he bragged, "We've accomplished a lot. We had a lot of meetings, as you know. But the people are getting better. They're all getting better."

By February 26, the CDC was publicly confirming community spread of the virus, meaning it was very much not under control, and the window for containment had probably closed.

Today the US death toll passed 11,000. There were 1,400 deaths today alone as of 3 p.m., before California, Michigan, and Illinois reported. This week is going to be horrible.

So Navarro can GTFOH with his stealth publicity tour. Warnings whispered behind closed doors in no wise redeem his months of public support as the Trump administration pissed away the chance to prepare for this crisis. The fact that he knew what was coming makes it even worse that he is currently presiding over a medical supply chain where the federal government drives up the price by bidding against the states, and then seizes shipments at the border, commandeering them for private companies. All of that is at Navarro's feet, and no amount of self-serving leaking will prevent that deadly cock up from being the first item in his obituary.


[Axios / NYT]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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