In the past several days, it has become increasingly clear that President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis is not merely incompetent, but actively making the problem worse. While the president can be credited for early action restricting travel from China, his behavior since then has been reckless, erratic, and injurious to public health.
The president’s failures of management are not merely those of a president who is neglecting to take necessary action. By all accounts, his mismanagement has actively made the problem far worse. Furthermore, this is not due to simple incompetence, but rather to deliberate sabotaging of public health efforts for political purposes.
The problem is not merely that he minimized the severity of the disease, for example, by stating on February 26 that “you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” Nor is the problem merely that he has actively spread misinformation and disinformation for months.
The problem is that he has prevented the United States from taking decisive action for the sole reason of trying to help his own political prospects. In late February, the Trump Administration, for reasons unexplained at the time, refused to accept World Health Organization coronavirus test kits. As we now know, the reason is that “the president had made clear – the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.” For the same reason, Trump tried to block a plan to evacuate thousands of cruise ship passengers (most presumably not yet infected) because he worried that “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”
Because of his active obstruction of emergency public health efforts, thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of people will die unnecessarily. The issue here is not mere “maladministration,” but rather actively sabotaging government crisis response efforts in the hope of improving his reelection prospects.
Reckless or wanton endangerment with the potential for many thousands of deaths constitutes an abuse of power. Reckless endangerment takes place when the conduct occurs, regardless of whether the death or grievous bodily harm actually results. By analogy, military service-members may be charged with “reckless endangerment” for engaging in conduct that is “reckless or wanton,” “likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm to another person,” and “of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” In a recent court-martial prosecution, affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in 2017, a sergeant was convicted of reckless endangerment (and sentenced to ten months’ confinement) for failure to properly inspect parachutes—a matter far less grave than reckless conduct that will lead to the spread of a pandemic. (As it happened, the sergeant’s reckless endangerment did not lead to any injuries, because another soldier “became suspicious about the speed with which some of these parachutes had been packed,” and they were opened and inspected, and found to contain unsafe deficiencies, without being used. Unfortunately, no such savior has emerged here.) While the president is of course not directly subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the gravity of President Trump’s reckless or wanton conduct in derogation of public health is far greater than that of one sergeant who failed to inspect some parachutes and where no one died as a result. And it brings discredit upon the dedicated men and women who are trying to save lives, not keep the numbers down to help the president’s polling.
We now issue three calls.
- We call upon President Trump (along with Vice President Pence) to undergo weekly testing, under the direction or with the observation of the attending physician of the U.S. Congress. If Trump tests positive, he should quarantine himself outside of Washington, D.C.
- In light of President Trump’s demonstrated inability to handle the serious responsibilities required at this moment in time, we call upon him to voluntarily step aside for at least eight weeks, by notifying the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives “that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” in accordance with section 3 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.
- Finally, if he does not take these actions for the good of the country, we call upon the House of Representatives to open an expedited impeachment inquiry to investigate President Trump for reckless and wanton endangerment by deliberately sabotaging public health for political purposes.