Pence task force freezes coronavirus aid amid backlash

The review came after officials discovered that aid to foreign countries wasn't being coordinated with U.S. requests.

4/1/2020 4:22:00 AM

The Trump administration is freezing aid to countries requesting help combatting coronavirus. The move comes after the U.S. asked Thailand for help last week only to be told that a U.S. shipment of the same supplies was already on its way to Bangkok

The review came after officials discovered that aid to foreign countries wasn't being coordinated with U.S. requests.

Last week, a Trump administration official working to secure much-needed protective gear for doctors and nurses in the United States had a startling encounter with counterparts in Thailand.The official asked the Thais for help—only to be informed by the puzzled voices on the other side of the line that a U.S. shipment of the same supplies, the second of two so far, was already on its way to Bangkok.

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AdvertisementTrump aides were alarmed when they learned of the exchange, and immediately put the shipment on hold while they ordered a review of U.S. aid procedures. Crossed wires would only confuse our allies, they worried, or worse—offend them. And Americans confronting a surging death toll and shortages of medical equipment back home would likely be outraged.

Vice President Mike Pence soon realized another step was needed: After a phone call asking a foreign leader’s help with key supplies, he ordered his staff to make sure the review process wasn’t holding up coronavirus-related aid to countries that were assisting the United States.

The incidents have spurred the Pence-led coronavirus task force to scrutinize all of USAID’s deliveries to countries requesting personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to fight the outbreak, according to people directly involved in the discussions, causing tensions between aid officials and task-force members.

The administration has also placed a moratorium on overseas shipments of USAID’s stockpiles of protective gear and is asking that the equipment be sent to the U.S. instead, other officials said.The heightened scrutiny comes as American health care workers complain of severe shortages of masks, goggles and gloves amid a nationwide spike in coronavirus cases, and as Democrats rip the administration for shipping aid to other countries while vastly underestimating America’s own needs.

“Trump, you incompetent idiot! You sent 18 tons of PPE to China early but ignored warnings & called COVID19 concerns a hoax,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)tweetedon Monday, referring to 17.8 tons of medical supplies—including masks, gowns, gauze, and respirators—the U.S. delivered in February to help with the outbreak in China. “You’ve endangered doctors, nurses, aids [sic], orderlies, & janitors -- all risking their lives to save ours. Pray 4 forgiveness for the harm that you’re causing!”

Administration officials reject that criticism, noting that the supplies sent to China came from private donations, not the Strategic National Stockpile. And they explain that as they seek to balance domestic needs against diplomatic considerations, getting a better handle on which supplies are going where is vital.

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“It’s a good thing that we're taking a holistic look at where and when we’re sending PPE as we're looking to fulfill needs here at home,” said Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller.President Donald Trump seems attuned to the political hazards. During Monday’s task force briefing, he emphasized that the U.S. was sending only “things that we don’t need” to other countries. “We’re going to be sending approximately $100 million worth of things – of surgical and medical and hospital things to Italy,” he announced.

“The problem is, there’s not one person who’s in charge of this, which is why we’re instituting a review process that is led by the White House coronavirus task force,” a person directly involved with the review said.Officials close to USAID say the ongoing review is more akin to a hold, as the task force examines the aid agency’s procurement of supplies and asks aid officials to alert them if there are other such shipments in the works.

“They’re really trying to walk a fine line between making sure Americans get everything they need and then starting to provide assistance elsewhere, and the vice president’s oversight is slowing down the decision-making process,” one person close to USAID said.

Aid officials, meanwhile, are being inundated with requests for information from multiple directorates at the White House, including questions about how to address the U.S. shortages of protective gear and details on countries’ capabilities to address the problem. USAID did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“The idea is to figure out what is in short supply and how it compares to what USAID has overseas,” explained the official. “Given what’s happening in the United States and the shortage of critical supplies, it would be really difficult to be sending things abroad when we need them here at home.”


This is one F**ked up administration, nobody knows what’s going on. Finger pointing, arguing with governors, telling half truths and out and out lies. This is one drained swamp. The U.S. is asking THAILAND!!!! TRUMP ALREADY SHOT HIS WAD BY SELLING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE OUT. HE SENT 17.8 TONS OF USA.. MEDICAL SUPPLIES WHICH HE NO DOUBT PROFITEERED THINKING HIS GRIFT WOULD NET HIM RICHES AND ADULATION Well he's getting the negative adulation that'll have to do

US administration seems to be very weak to do effective service to people in the hour of crisis. trump is killing Americans like you've never seen before... We’ve been lied to by CHINA. No doubt Chinese virus came from Wuhan Lab. Entire world shut down. We need the truth. Lab created virus. Trump aides immediately put the shipment on hold while they ordered a review of U.S. aid procedures. They worried crossed wires would confuse allies. And Americans confronting a surging death toll and shortages of medical supplies would likely be outraged

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