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Former President Barack Obama delivered a blistering attack on Donald Trump’s handing of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it “an absolute chaotic disaster” as well as “anemic.”
Obama’s remarks, first reported by Yahoo News, came in a leaked call as the former president exhorted members of his administration to rally behind presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The comments were perhaps the most scathing criticism Obama has yet delivered of his successor in the White House.
Critics have said the U.S. government wasted precious time in February by failing to ramp up testing and stockpile supplies as the coronavirus spread in Europe. The U.S. now leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 infections, with nearly 1.3 million as of Saturday. More than 78,000 have died in the U.S. from the virus.
However, Trump has defended his handling of the pandemic, repeatedly highlighting his Jan. 31 decision to impose travel restrictions barring most non-U.S. citizens from entering the U.S. after recent visits to China.
“President Trump’s coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement on Saturday.
“While Democrats were pursuing a sham witch hunt against President Trump, President Trump was shutting down travel from China. While Democrats encouraged mass gatherings, President Trump was deploying PPE, ventilators, and testing across the country.”
Obama, in Friday’s remarks, cast the U.S. response to the virus as an outgrowth of tribalism as he sought to emphasize the urgency of the November election.
“What we’re going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party. What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life” as well as internationally, Obama said.
“And it’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty,” he said.
While coronavirus “would have been bad even with the best of governments,” Obama said, “it has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘to heck with everybody else’ — when that mindset is operationalized in our government.”
Obama said that’s why he will be “spending as much time as necessary” and campaigning as hard as he can for Biden.
Although Obama endorsed Biden in April and promised to hit the campaign trail in support, he’s generally shied from delivering sharp attacks against Trump. However, that tone may change as Obama becomes a more visible cheerleader and surrogate for Biden.