As Covid-19 infection rates across the United States break records less than a week before Election Day, newly released tapes reveal how President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, privately bragged in mid-April that the president had successfully undermined the public health officials advising him on the unfolding coronavirus pandemic by committing to reopen the economy despite expert warnings.
"They minimized the pandemic and undermined efforts to contain it because they thought doing so would be a political gold mine."
—Paul Waldman, Washington Post
Trump "is getting the country back from the doctors," Kushner boasted to journalist Bob Woodward in an April 18 interview, the audio of which was obtained by CNN and released Wednesday.
At the time, the national caseload was growing by roughly 30,000 per day, while more than 40,000 Americans had already died from Covid-19. As CNN noted on Wednesday, "Kushner's comments from six months ago look particularly damning as the U.S. undergoes a fall surge of infections."
According to an Axios analysis of Covid-19 data, new coronavirus infections in the U.S. have "soared to an all-time high" just days ahead of November 3. The increase in cases has been accompanied by a rise in the country's pandemic death toll, which passed 227,000 on Thursday.
"On average," Axios reported, "nearly 72,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus every day over the past week." The U.S. set a new record for the most cases in a single day twice in the past week on its way to "the highest seven-day average on record."
United States sets another record high for COVID-19 cases
46 US States in Red/Orange Zones for cases
43 states show rising numbers
16 states set new record highs
Every region of the country is Red/Orange (3 Red)
— Euro Maestro (@euromaestro) October 27, 2020
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In mid-April, Kushner told Woodward:
There were three phases. There's the panic phase, the pain phase, and then the comeback phase. I do believe that last night symbolized kind of the beginning of the comeback phase. That doesn't mean there's not still a lot of pain and there won't be pain for a while, but that basically was, we've now put out rules to get back to work. Trump's now back in charge. It's not the doctors. We have... a negotiated settlement.
Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday night acknowledged that there had been a "pivot away from completely focusing on public health issues to looking at opening up the country with regard to the economy."
"I don't know exactly the timing," the nation's top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force told CNBC. "But it was clear... some months ago."
Kushner's statement—which critics say confirms that the Trump administration insisted on reopening the economy, regardless of the advice offered by health experts and the deadly havoc it would wreak on the public, because they thought it was politically beneficial—received widespread condemnation.
"We know their handling the pandemic was dictated by politics, and that's a big part of the reason it was such an unmitigated disaster," wrote Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman on Wednesday. "But even more infuriating is that it was dictated by bad politics."
"They could have done the right thing for the wrong reasons, taking steps that would save lives solely to benefit President Trump's reelection campaign," Waldman added. "Instead, they did the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. They minimized the pandemic and undermined efforts to contain it because they thought doing so would be a political gold mine."
On social media, epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding said Thursday that "Kushner can go to hell for this comment."
Kushner can go to hell for this comment: he boasted in April about how Trump had cut out the doctors & scientists advising him on the unfolding #COVID19 pandemic, telling journalist Bob Woodward that Trump was "getting the country back from the doctors" https://t.co/OsZTBrfkXq
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) October 29, 2020
"If we continue our current behavior," CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said, "by the time we start to go down the other side of the curve, a half a million people will be dead."