Donald Trump was forced to act like he was interested in the coronavirus and its effects on the airline industry as he sat in a White House meeting with leaders from the transportation companies to discuss the impact that the pandemic was having on their businesses.
He revealed what was truly on his mind, however, at the end of the meeting when he took some questions from reporters and had to prompt them to ask him about what he really wanted to discuss, the results of yesterday’s Super Tuesday primary elections.
“No questions on the election?,” Trump plaintively asked the journalists after the peppered him with questions on the topic at hand, the rapidily spreading virus that has seen new cases emerge in California, New York, and Washington state overnight.
Trump had earlier outlined new procedures that the government would be taking to check passengers for the virus when traveling “from certain areas” that are hotbeds for infections, testing them for symptoms both before boarding the plane at their foreign points of departure and at their arrival destinations.
At meeting with airline CEOs over the novel coronavirus, Pres. Trump says passengers will be checked when they "come in from certain areas."
— ABC News (@ABC) March 4, 2020
Trump also managed to generate a few online chortles as he proceeded to repeat one of the top pieces of medical advice that experts are advising people to follow to avoid contracting the coronavirus — to wash your hands thoroughly and often and avoid touching your face — claiming that “I haven’t touched my face in weeks. Been weeks. I miss it.”
It didn’t take long for Twitter to come up with evidence that the president was lying again when a photograph of Trump with his tiny finger touching his cheek — taken just on Monday at another coronavirus meeting — began circulating.
— Tyler Bartlam (@tylerbartlam5) March 4, 2020
Temptation is a bitch, apparently.
The president’s biggest concern appeared to be not the physical habits that can help prevent infection or the health and safety of the U.S. populace, but whether the government would be forced to dedicate massive amounts of money to bail out the airline industry after fears about the coronavirus have caused a precipitous drop in revenues as companies and leisure travelers rapidly cancel their travel plans in reaction to the epidemic.
This was a topic with which the president took the opposite approach compared to his plea for questions about the Super Tuesday elections, admonishing journalists to not ask him about any airline bailouts, at least not in front of the companies’ CEOs.
“Don’t ask that question, please, because they haven’t asked that,” he answered a reporter who asked about the possibility. “So I don’t want you to give them any ideas. We haven’t discussed that yet.”
While none of the executives present have yet to raise the idea of government support as their businesses tank, in the back of their minds they surely recall the last time the federal treasury had to slip them a handout to stay operational in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when all air traffic was halted for days after the hijacking of multiple planes by Al Queda terrorists.
With the terror coming this time from a microbe with a weeks-long incubation period, the recovery in air travel may take even longer than it did after the September 11th attacks, since no TSA agent can prevent the unseen virus from boarding the plane along with any asymptomatic passengers.
Trump may soon face the difficult decision of whether to provide a dose of corporate socialism to save the privately-owned airline companies while decrying the universal health care that his political opponents the Democrats are all supporting as a dangerous example of socialist excess.
Meanwhile, his Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, refuses to even consider price controls on any eventual vaccine for the coronavirus.
“We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest,” Azar told a congressional committee last week responding to a question about the cost of a vaccine. “The priority is to get vaccines and therapeutics. Price controls won’t get us there.”
One would think that with the federal government contributing to the costs of research and development of any vaccine, that it would be able to have a significant say in the pricing of the fruits of its investment, but such talk is socialist anathema to Azar, a former pharmaceutical company executive.
As the coronavirus crisis continues to grow and affect both the economy and the president’s own chances at reelection, Trump’s response is under even greater scrutiny than his behavior in asking for foreign governments to assist him in his bid for a second term. While GOP senators managed to bail him out of that last mess, they will likely have much greater difficulty in covering up his incompetent response to a pandemic that results in multiple deaths across the country and tanks the stock market, harming even his billionaire buddies.
Original reporting by Sam Mintz at Politico.