WASHINGTON — Rep. Andy Kim emerged from a congressional hearing last Friday on the coronavirus pandemic with a simple, harrowing message. “We are not ready for the second wave. We’re not even ready for the current spike that we’re seeing right now,” the young Democrat from New Jersey told Yahoo News on a day when Florida and Texas reclosed some businesses, having only weeks earlier touted a return to normal.
A former aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Afghanistan, Kim is one of several “national security Democrats” who first won House seats in 2018. Many rose to prominence earlier this year, during impeachment proceedings against President Trump, which focused on arms sales to Ukraine.
Now these national security Democrats are trying to use their expertise in military or intelligence services to compensate for what they see as the president’s deficient handling of the crisis.
“We are still in the heart of this pandemic,” said Kim, who also served as an official on the National Security Council for President Barack Obama.
Kim has used his seat on the House Oversight Committee’s coronavirus subcommittee to advocate for clarity on how the Trump administration has been spending the $2 trillion allocated by Congress for pandemic relief in the CARES Act. He has also co-sponsored legislation that would provide coronavirus relief funds to communities that are home to military installations.
That the pandemic in the U.S. is still raging has been made evident by the Florida and Texas outbreaks, as well as spikes in California and Arizona. And fall is fast approaching, which means the coronavirus will be joined by seasonal flu, a twin assault that could cause grave strains on hospitals. There are signs that the administration is concerned, with the White House coronavirus task force holding its first public briefing in two months on Friday.
But just how concerned? Trump still refuses to wear a face mask in most settings. And he is plainly eager to return to holding campaign rallies, even though public health officials say such events are extremely high risk for viral transmission.
Kim says the administration’s response has left Democrats in the House of Representatives without any GOP allies. On Friday, he watched as Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., the subcommittee’s ranking member, railed against the mask-wearing guidance issued by the attending physician of Congress and endorsed by Democratic leaders in the House.
Asked by Yahoo News if there were any Republicans he could work with on coronavirus relief efforts, Kim had only this to say: “I’m still hoping that person shows up.”
The person who did show up on Friday was U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, who testified about a new 400-page report by the Government Accountability Office on the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 130,000 Americans so far.
The report found that states were reporting “incomplete and inconsistent data” on testing efforts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; that $1.4 billion in economic relief payments had gone to 1.1 million dead people; that the Strategic National Stockpile, which includes reserves of medical equipment, “was not designed or funded to provide states with supplies at the scale necessary to respond to a nationwide event such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Trump and other officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have tried to link the rise in cases to an increase in testing, and while it is indeed true that the U.S. is testing more people today than it was two months ago, that ramp-up does not account for spikes in the Sun Belt and California.
Kim, and some of his Democratic colleagues steeped in national security and comfortable in the data-driven language of technocracy, have enjoined their Republican counterparts to refocus on the pandemic.
“The administration’s haphazard COVID-19 response strategy has sowed chaos and confusion across the federal government, state and local governments, and private companies,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., told Yahoo News. A former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, Spanberger has pushed for the federal Health and Human Services Department to investigate more thoroughly how to protect the Strategic National Stockpile from depletion of medical supplies.
Rep. Max Rose, a U.S. Army veteran who joined the House in 2019 by wresting his seat from a Republican incumbent, becoming the first Jewish person to ever represent the New York City borough of Staten Island, is also critical of how the administration has responded to the pandemic.
Rose, who deployed with the National Guard in its pandemic relief efforts, told Yahoo News that Trump should have done more to meet testing deficiencies earlier in the outbreak, including by more forcefully utilizing the Defense Production Act to compel private industry to manufacture testing-related supplies.
“It’s a disgrace that in the greatest country on earth, we were hamstrung by shortages of glorified Q-tips,” Rose told Yahoo News, referencing the nasopharyngeal swabs needed to conduct diagnostic coronavirus tests. Rose has pushed for “pooled testing,” which would combine individual testing samples into batches, breaking them back out into individual tests only if the initial batch returned a positive result.
And while the coronavirus has affected parts of the U.S. differently, it has almost uniformly ravaged state and municipal coffers. Democrats have asked Congress for a fresh coronavirus stimulus package, one that directly addresses shortfalls in state and municipal budgets. Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill have resisted those calls, blaming the budgetary shortfalls not on a global pandemic but on what they see as long-standing liberal profligacy with taxpayer dollars.
“It’s not fair to the Republicans because all the states that need help — they’re run by Democrats in every case,” Trump said in early May.
Kim represents New Jersey, one of the wealthiest states in the nation, but it was devastated by the coronavirus earlier this spring, in part because of its proximity to New York. Responding to the coronavirus by closing whole sectors of the economy, from tourism to financial services, could deprive New Jersey of $10 billion in revenue.
And yet federal action does not appear to be forthcoming, even as states that reopened early are closing yet again, meaning that budgetary woes will almost certainly continue into the fall.
Describing his state as being in “desperate need of resources,” Kim wonders if Trump hears such calls — or cares. “We’re just not getting any help,” he said.
Cover thumbnail photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images
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