By RAHEEM KASSAM
There’s plenty of things we can say we would have done differently at the onset of COVID-19. I was originally supportive of Mike Pence’s taskforce, and the 14 days to slow the spread. I regret that. Though I don’t regret calling it out as a lab-leaked virus from day one.
Donald Trump surely has his own regrets, expressed through his repeated disowning of Antony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and many of the bureaucrats who we now know colluded to provide him with incorrect information. Perhaps you don’t recall the anger from the corporate media when Trump called out the falsification of data, and attempted to stop it informing policy.
But there’s more that keeps niggling at me about the way Trump’s opponents – mostly DeSantis surrogates – now deal with that issue.
They point to DeSantis’s (scarcely better) record. It’s true to say the Florida governor course corrected faster than Democrat leaders across the country. But it’s ludicrous to argue that Florida was operating “as normal” throughout COVID.
As a reminder, DeSantis declared a public health emergency in March; limited beach gatherings and restaurant occupancy; issued an executive order closing down businesses; imposed quarantine orders; set up highway checkpoints; issued stay-at-home orders. He was even far behind Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and both North and South Dakota in defying Tony Fauci.
When he did re-open his state, he admitted he was “following President Trump’s recommendations to reopen.”
But the campaign talking points from Team DeSantis aside, there’s something everyone seems to ignore: the origins of the COVID-19 taskforce, and the beginning of Operation Warp Speed.
Trump’s first Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price made Big Pharma very uncomfortable. Which is why they briefed his “unorthodox” views on mandatory vaccination to the Washington Post’s health reporter Amy Goldstein. The article quotes someone from Avalere Health – a D.C. health policy consultancy firm – who said: “I’ve seen people with extreme views come into government and take the position very seriously, and I’ve seen people with extreme views come into government and pursue their specific interests.”
The “extreme” position at the time? That Price used to be a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) which at the time opposed mandatory vaccination as “human to human experimentation.” Avalere Health, for what it’s worth, is led by a woman called Elizabeth Carpenter, who previously worked at the globalist New American Foundation, which receives most of its funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and even the United States Department of State. The swamp runs deep.
Price was released from his role in 2017 after five Democrats complained that he was spending too much on air travel. Those Democrats? Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal, alongside Sens. Patty Murray, Ron Wyden, and Gary Peters.
Murray and Wyden are, in fact, amongst the largest recipients of Big Pharma cash on Capitol Hill. Pallone, Neal, and Peters all also receive Big Pharma cash. We’re talking tens of thousands each over just one year. The top donors? Pfizer, Abbott Labs, Johnson & Johnson, GSK, and Regeneron, amongst others. Quite the coincidence.
Alex Azar was the man Mike Pence recommended, telling Trump he could receive Senate confirmation as a replacement for Tom Price. Pence knew Azar from Indiana, where Azar had worked as the President of Lilly USA, a subsidiary of pharma giant Eli Lilly.
Curiously enough, Avalere pops up again in a quote, from another article by Amy Goldstein, in November 2017: “…he is well accepted by Democratic policy people by having good policy wonk credentials,” said Dan Mendelson of Avalere, adding: “he will bring stability to this agency. He really understands the mechanisms of HHS.”
Fawning praise by the D.C. establishment for a Trump appointee? When did that ever happen before?
Perhaps it’s because Azar was a member of the board for the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a pharma industry organization which counts amongst its members: Pfizer, Regeneron, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna, amongst others. Quite the coincidence, again.
The Pence-Azar Taskforce.
Trump’s right-leaning critics blast the former president for the COVID-19 response. Specifically: lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations. But Trump was as consistent as any Republican on both the former and the latter, breaking only to use the matter as a cudgel against his internecine Republican opponents such as Georgia’s Brian Kemp.
But a more interesting question arises when analyzing the early COVID days: for a man who is obsessed with putting his name on absolutely everything, why was it Alex Azar’s taskforce, and then Mike Pence’s taskforce? Why was there no golden, Trump logo on the taskforce’s mast head? Why did Azar and Pence so efficiently co-brand the initiative as their own?
Indeed and in fact, it was Mike Pence who put Fauci, Birx, and others on the team. Unsurprising when you realize that Pence’s long-time chief of staff Marc Short held substantial amounts of stock in Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Merck collectively. Short was also the man who told Pence that he had no authority to send electoral college votes back to the states prior to January 6th 2021.
People with functioning recollection of the early days of COVID will also note Trump’s urgent attempts to shift Azar off the taskforce, after what White House insiders called “mismanagement” especially as it pertained to financials being requested by the Department of Health and Human Services. It culminated in Trump humiliating Azar publicly, telling the world he had handed the reins over to Pence. Even CNN reported at the time that Azar was not keeping Trump informed of his taskforce’s work, much like the deep-state holdovers that plagued Trump’s administration throughout.
By February 27th 2020, Vice President Mike Pence declared: “I’m leading the taskforce.” Even the Trump White House archive shows it was Pence and Azar pulling all the strings.
From that point on, all COVID requests were routed through the Vice President’s office. Not through HHS, thanks to Trump, but also not through the Oval Office.
Extending the Pandemic.
While using Trump as a figurehead – pushing him to do daily press conferences so the media could hammer him for the errors of the taskforce – Pence and Azar privately plotted to keep the pandemic going. Their incentive was their compromise at the hands of Big Pharma. They even broke cover in July 2020, telling governors they would make sure Trump did not end the COVID-19 emergency situation.
In reality, it was Pence and Azar pulling the strings, despite Trump’s repeated attempts to sideline Azar, whose department was more interested in providing POLITICO with puff pieces about Antony Fauci.
Just the Beginning.
All of this is just the story that can be recalled quite easily, using mostly publicly verifiable information.
What becomes clear upon this analysis is the disingenuousness of the Team DeSantis talking points, attempting to leave all the blame for the overzealous COVID-19 response at Donald Trump’s door. It tells us they’d be singing the other tune if they feel like he “hadn’t done enough.”
DeSantis may be the only candidate to announce a run for the presidency with poll numbers dropping precipitously. He is down 40 points to President Trump. DeSantis is getting poor advice from his billionaire backers.