Trump's White House wrestles with clashes, drama as he battles coronavirus pandemic




  • In Business
  • 2020-04-06 21:03:52Z
  • By USA TODAY
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Trump\'s White House wrestles with clashes, drama as he battles coronavirus pandemic  

WASHINGTON - The coronavirus has shut down entire sectors of the economy, closed schools and forced millions of Americans to work from home. One thing the pandemic hasn't changed: discord within President Donald Trump's inner circle.

From a battle over the president's enthusiasm for an unproven drug regimen to his firing of a watchdog who told Congress about a phone call with Ukraine that helped trigger the impeachment inquiry last year, drama has continued to spill out of the White House on a nearly daily basis during the nation's worst public health crisis in decades.

As he approaches what could be the most consequential weeks of his presidency - some have compared the expected psychological toll in coming days to the bombing of Pearl Harbor - Trump must fight the virus while holding together warring internal factions that have been a defining characteristic of his administration.

"The Trump White House has been marked by chaos from the beginning, but in earlier days, it was mostly benign," said Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. "History will not judge this kindly."

Interrupting Fauci: Trump interjects when reporter asks doctor about hydroxychloroquine

As the number of coronavirus deaths in the country exceeded 10,000, public health officials warned 100,000 to 240,000 could die from the disease by the end of the year. Models used by the administration predict that the virus could peak in coming weeks in some of the hardest-hit hot spots of the country, such as New York.

New approach, mixed results

Unable to connect directly with supporters in campaign rallies that have long been his trademark, the president has relied on daily news briefings at the White House during the pandemic to deliver his message. At times contradictory, often combative, the exchanges have given Trump a platform to frame his administration's response, tout progress and defend against criticism that Washington is not acting quickly enough.

Trump has had some success: A series of public opinion polls showed the president's approval increased to one of the highest points of his presidency in the first few weeks of the crisis. A widely cited poll from ABC News and The Washington Post in late March showed more people approving of the president's work than disapproving.

Trump dismissed any suggestion of internal disagreements.

"To do what we've been able to do and to build it to a level, it should have taken a year. It should've taken two years," Trump said Sunday. "They did it in a matter of weeks."

'Our Pearl Harbor': Surgeon general warns USA of painful week ahead

The news conferences have also at times amplified tensions within the administration. In a rare public appearance, Trump's son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner addressed reporters last week, prompting questions about his specific role in the federal response to coronavirus and how it dovetailed with Vice President Mike Pence's effort leading the administration's task force on the issue.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said some confusion is natural amid "an unprecedented crisis of this magnitude facing our country." Bonjean noted that the crisis hits as the president brings on a new chief of staff, former North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows.

"Meadows now has the opportunity to assert his new authority and get people in line right away," he said. "However, it will be up to President Trump to give him the green light and backup in order to make this happen quickly."

'Second opinion'

Few issues underscore tension within the administration as much as the president's references to the drug hydroxychloroquine. Trump has repeatedly touted it as a medicine that could have a benefit for coronavirus patients - even suggesting he might take it - despite more cautious analysis from health experts such as Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

After reports of heated debates within the White House about the drug, Peter Navarro - the president's top trade and manufacturing adviser - signaled that he and Fauci disagreed on the efficacy.

"I would have two words for you: second opinion," Navarro told CNN. "Doctors disagree about things all the time."

Inspector general

As the administration battles the virus, it has drawn new questions about controversial actions, some of which were entirely unrelated to the disease.

Trump took bipartisan fire last week for firing the intelligence watchdog who handled a whistleblower's complaint about his interactions with Ukraine. The president notified Congress on Friday that he fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general who informed Congress about an anonymous whistleblower complaint that described Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

The complaint led to Trump's impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House. He was acquitted in the Republican-run Senate. Some Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, argued that the watchdog's "removal was not warranted."

Andrew Rudalevige, a professor of government at Bowdoin College who studies the presidency, said Trump continues his role of being a divisive figure to large swaths of the country even as he seeks to coordinate getting medical supplies to hard-hit parts of the country and reduce mortality from the virus below projections.

"I don't know that new fans are being converted by this," Rudalevige said. "I do wonder if the president risks being tuned out if he continues to be the end all and be all in terms of communications from the administration."

Contributing: Rebecca Morin and Jordan Culver

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Trump team wrestles with clashes, drama amid coronavirus

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