President Trump has started feuds with several governors during the coronavirus response, with diatribes against Jay Inslee of Washington, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois complicating calls for national unity and bipartisanship. Even New York’s Andrew Cuomo, usually the recipient of the president’s praise, has come in for the occasional brushback.
Monday presented Trump with a new target: Larry Hogan of Maryland. The target is noteworthy because, unlike the other governors whom Trump has attacked, Hogan is a Republican, albeit one with no evident loyalty to Trump (last year, he even considered a presidential primary challenge).
Hogan has received near-unanimous praise for recognizing and responding to the threat of the coronavirus. But the president is apparently unimpressed. In describing a call with governors that Vice President Mike Pence presided over earlier in the day, Trump singled out Hogan, effectively depicting him as clueless.
“The governor of Maryland didn’t really understand. He didn’t really understand what was going on,” Trump said, alleging that Hogan was unaware of all the coronavirus testing sites in his own state. That list of testing sites was emailed by his administration to governors.
More broadly, Trump was clearly on the defensive about a persistent testing shortfall that may frustrate the president’s plans to reopen the American economy, which has been under lockdown for weeks.
Hogan appeared on CNN just a few minutes later to rebut Trump’s charge that he was somehow confused about testing. “I have a pretty good understanding of what’s going on and I appreciate the information that was provided by his team,” Hogan told anchor Wolf Blitzer.
Speaking of the list of testing facilities, Hogan said that “most of the ones they sent me in Maryland were all federal facilities, including NIH and FDA and Walter Reed and Fort Detrick,” using acronyms for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
Walter Reed is a military medical center, while Fort Detrick is home to the military’s biological defense program. Presumably, neither site would be accessible to members of the public seeking a coronavirus test.
“I’m not sure what he was trying to say,” the second-term governor added.
A month ago, Hogan, along with the governor of Virginia and the mayor of Washington, D.C., asked for a federal test site in their region. They were told, according to Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci, that “it was on the states.” (At one point during Monday’s briefing, Vice President Mike Pence seemed to say that any site that could conduct coronavirus tests would do so; he referenced the federal sites in Maryland, but did not offer details about how they would make the necessary accommodations.)
In recent days, Trump has vacillated between declaring that he has “total” authority to declare lockdown orders lifted and telling governors that it was their responsibility to meet the benchmarks for state-specific reopenings to begin. Among those conditions is a “[d]ownward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period.”
To meet that goal, states must have the capacity to test hundreds of thousands of people. Trump and his coronavirus task force response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, have said that states have enough testing, but some governors have disagreed with that assertion.
Trump may also have been irked by the favorable publicity Hogan received for personally negotiating with South Korean companies to purchase 500,000 coronavirus tests. Hogan’s wife, Yumi, who was born in South Korea, took part in the negotiations. The Hogans were on hand as the shipment arrived in Baltimore on Saturday.
Speaking during the Monday briefing, Adm. Brett Giroir, whom the White House has put in charge of the testing issue, also criticized Hogan. “I don’t know what the governor of Maryland is doing in South Korea,” he said. A few moments later, Trump returned to the podium to say that instead of purchasing test kits from South Korea, it would have been better for the governor to acquire “a little knowledge.”
But as Hogan pointed out during a press conference earlier on Monday, his outreach to South Korea was a consequence of a White House directive. “The administration made it clear over and over again they want the states to take the lead,” Hogan said, “and we have to go out and do it ourselves — and that’s exactly what we did,” He explained that the negotiations with South Korea, led by him and Yumi Hogan, involved hours-long phone calls for 22 consecutive nights.