As the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, people are looking for leadership. A few individuals stand out, and we’d like to give credit where credit is due.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin kept his head and kept meeting with the Democratic leadership to forge a $2 trillion-dollar economic stimulus plan that passed the Republican-controlled Senate 96 to zero and the Democratic-controlled House by voice vote.
This is a stunning achievement led from the administration’s side by Mnuchin who is not an ideologue, a needed asset in these divisive times. He has been able to maintain a cordial working relationship with Democratic leaders. Working together in marathon sessions stretching into the wee hours they were able to agree on meaningful legislation.
There were some hurdles. A $500 billion fund that Mnuchin will manage looked like a slush fund for favored corporations and states in an election year. Democrats protested and a mechanism for oversight was included to be headed by an inspector general subject to Senate confirmation.
Mnuchin worked behind the scenes so there was no danger of him stealing too much public credit from the president. On the one occasion when he was part of the coronavirus briefing panel to tout the economic deal, he did pay the obligatory homage to Trump, who thanked him for the very long hours that he had put in to deliver the deal.
The other public servant deserving of commendation in the battle to contain the coronavirus is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the NIH’s Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, a position he has held for decades. He first came to public attention during the Reagan administration when he spoke truth to power on the HIV-AIDS outbreak in the 1980s.
He has become a regular feature in the daily briefings. When not there, rampant concern erupts that he might have overplayed his hand as the voice of reason on public health and that the president might have banished him.
He is the only one who doesn’t lavish Trump with praise, and when Trump says something blatantly untrue, Fauci calmly steps to the podium and provides the facts.
He disputed Trump’s assertion that a medicine used to treat malaria is a potential game-changer to treat coronavirus. And he countered Trump’s belief that the country and the economy could “open up” on Easter Sunday and church goers could pack the pews, giving new meaning to the resurrection. Trump’s rosy scenario was countered by just about everybody, including the governors who have imposed stay-at-home guidelines in states that are hard hit.
“You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Fauci told CNN. Everybody worries he is pushing his luck by countering the president, and in being available for various media interviews. Asked by Science magazine how he has avoided being fired by Trump, Fauci said: “Even though we disagree on some things, he listens. He goes his own way. He has his own style. But on substantive issues, he does listen to what I say.”
The other heroes on the leadership front lines are the nation’s governors. They’re having to beg and plead for federal assistance, and if they get on Trump’s wrong side, they risk being cut off from essential supplies.
Trump has resisted applying the full weight of the federal government to acquire the needed medical supplies, saying in a tweet that certain governors that he has clashed with “shouldn’t be blaming the federal government for their own shortcomings.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker responded with a tweet comparing Trump to “the carnival barkers that are tweeting from the cheap seats.” Yet the hard reality for Pritzker and other governors is they’ve got to learn to flatter Trump or risk being without.
Mnuchin, Fauci, several governors, and a variety of other people in and out of government are displaying exemplary leadership during this crisis. They need to be followed and emulated.
Washington Merry-Go-Round, the nation’s longest running column, presents today’s events in historical perspective. Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift are veteran commentators.