President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been “an absolute chaotic disaster” for America, Barack Obama has said, the starkest assessment yet from the former president about his successor’s “anemic and spotty” response to the global health crisis.
Obama slammed Trump during a private call on Friday night with people who worked for him in the White House and across his administration, according to US media reports.
In a 30-minute conversation with members of the Obama Alumni Association, the former president, a Democrat, said the poor response to the coronavirus outbreak served as a critical reminder for why strong government leadership is needed during a global crisis.
During the call, Obama said his Republican successor’s approach to government was partly to blame for the US response to coronavirus.
Over 78,000 people have now died in the US and the country has 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 – both by far the highest in the world.
Trump’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic has oscillated. In February he dismissed it, saying it would disappear, but by mid-March he acknowledged its severity.
“It would have been bad even with the best of government,” Obama was quoted as saying in the call.
“It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset of ”what’s in it for me” and ”to heck with everybody else”, when that mindset is operationalised in our government,” Obama, who was US president for two consecutive terms from 2009 to 2017, said.
The call was intended to encourage former Obama staffers to become more engaged in ex-vice president Joe Biden’s White House bid against Trump in the November presidential elections, CNN reported.
“This election that’s coming up — on every level — is so important because what we’re going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party,” Obama, who endorsed Biden officially last month, said.
“What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life.”
Obama used the strongest words for the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and its worldview, CNN noted.
“It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty,” Obama commented.
The comments were first reported by Yahoo News, which obtained an audio recording of the call.
Obama communications director Katie Hill confirmed the call to CBS News, and said that its purpose was to “to touch base during this time, and to talk about the importance of helping elect Biden and Democrats up and down the ballot this fall.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany responded to Obama’s criticism in a statement, saying President Trump’s “coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives,” CBS News reported.
Some 3,000 Obama administration alumni took part in Friday’s discussion, as part of a regular series of gatherings of the tight-knit network, NBC News reported.
Obama shared that his two daughters, Malia and Sasha, have shown him viral TikTok videos intended to discourage voters from supporting Biden in the elections.
“I’m a 58-year-old guy, I don’t have the answers here,” Obama said. But he said finding solutions to counter that and address it was “long-term mission” for his former staff.
Obama repeatedly voiced support for Biden, his vice president, on the call, but said it was not just enough to support him in the presidential race, but to ensure Democrats held the House and won back control of the Senate as well.
“I’m going to be spending as much time is necessary and campaigning as far as I can for Joe Biden. We all know Joe,” Obama was quoted as saying by the NBC News report.
Obama also strongly criticised the decision to drop criminal charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn was among the former aides to president Trump convicted during the special counsel”s investigation into the alleged Russian election interference in the 2016 US elections.
He had pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia”s ambassador to the US.