ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday sharply criticized President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which he described as a series of missed opportunities, unheeded warnings and failed leadership.
In an essay for The Washington Post titled "Fighting Alone," Hogan said, "with nowhere else to turn," he was forced to rely on his wife, Yumi, who was born and raised in South Korea, to arrange for the purchase of 500,000 test kits.
"This should not have been necessary," Hogan wrote.
"I’d watched as the president downplayed the outbreak’s severity and as the White House failed to issue public warnings, draw up a 50-state strategy, or dispatch medical gear or lifesaving ventilators from the national stockpile to American hospitals," said Hogan, the Republican chairman of the National Governors Association.
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"Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation’s response was hopeless; if we delayed any longer, we’d be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death. So every governor went their own way, which is how the United States ended up with such a patchwork response.
"Governors were being told that we were on our own. It was sink or swim. And if I didn’t do something dramatic, we simply would not come close to having enough tests in Maryland," he said.
But combating a pandemic was something that required a federal response, Hogan said.
"An undertaking as large as a national testing program required Washington’s help. We expected something more than constant heckling from the man who was supposed to be our leader," he said.
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Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters during a White House news briefing on Thursday that Hogan was engaging in "revisionist history" and that his comments stood in "stark contrast" to some of his previous statements thanking Trump.
But it was not the first time Hogan, a Trump critic who considered challenging him in the Republican primary, has publicly criticized the president on the pandemic.
When Trump in April tweeted a call to "LIBERATE!" states from coronavirus lockdown measures, Hogan said the president's comment was not "not helpful." And after Trump speculated publicly that putting bleach inside the human body might prevent infection, Hogan chastised him for spreading "misinformation."
However, Hogan's magazine-length piece is notable for the details it gives of Trump's behind-the-scenes dealings with governors.
Hogan said that as Trump was posting "cheerful or sarcastic comments and tweets, minimizing the outbreak’s severity and the need for Americans to do much of anything," governors gathered February in Washington for an annual meeting.
There, public health experts, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, were able to "convince almost all the governors that this epidemic was going to be worse than most people realized."
"It was jarring, the huge contrast between the experts’ warnings and the president’s public dismissals. Weren’t these the people the White House was consulting about the virus?" wrote Hogan.
A 'bungled' response
He lamented the lost opportunities to contain the coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak.
"So many nationwide actions could have been taken in those early days but weren’t. While other countries were racing ahead with well-coordinated testing regimes, the Trump administration bungled the effort," Hogan said, citing the CDC's trouble developing an accurate test.
"Meanwhile, instead of listening to his own public health experts, the president was talking and tweeting like a man more concerned about boosting the stock market or his reelection plans."
During their retreat, the governors held a dinner with the president. Hogan said Trump delivered "one of his unscripted rally speeches that seemed to go on at least an hour too long." He did not remember Trump mentioning the outbreak, but he did recall that the president "talked about how much he respected President Xi Jinping of China; how much he liked playing golf with his buddy “Shinzo,” Prime Minister Abe of Japan; how well he got along with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un."
'I could only shake my head'
Hogan said Trump followed with a "jarring" denouncement of South Koreans, whom he said were "terrible people." He complained "they don't pay us" for protecting them, Hogan said.
"Yumi was sitting there as the president hurled insults at her birthplace. I could tell she was hurt and upset. I know she wanted to walk out. But she sat there politely and silently," Hogan said.
The White House did not immediately comment on Hogan's claims.
The essay is an adapted excerpt from Hogan's upcoming book, "Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics That Divide America."
Hogan described how Trump was "all over the place" as he dealt with the crisis, making false claims that anyone could get a test "even as my fellow governors were desperately pleading for help on testing." He said Trump "shifted from boasting to blame," faulting the Obama administration one moment and claiming the problem of testing had been solved the next.
"As Trump was making these comments, I was requesting his approval to conduct joint testing at the National Institutes of Health," Hogan said. He said that when he called NIH, Director Francis Collins told him he was glad he called because he was about to see if Hogan could ask Johns Hopkins University to help him conduct testing since NIH did not have enough.
'There wasn't much else to say'
"I could only shake my head at that. The federal government – a much bigger and better-funded institution, with tens of thousands of scientists and physicians in the civil service – wanted my help!" wrote Hogan.
Hogan recounted the process of negotiating the purchase of the tests from South Korea and the "bureaucratic red tape."
After acquiring the tests, Hogan said he expected "a congratulatory word from the president."
"Trump always had a taste for bold gestures – but, apparently, only for bold gestures he could claim," Hogan said. When asked about Hogan's acquisition of the testing kits from overseas, Trump told reporters the Maryland governor "needed to get a little knowledge" and said Hogan simply should have called Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House coronavirus task force.
Hogan said that when he spoke to Pence on the phone shortly after that, he joked that he wished he had known he could have just called him because it would have "saved a heck of a lot of effort."
Hogan said Pence chuckled, "but there wasn't much else to say."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gov. Larry Hogan says Trump left governors to fight alone on pandemic