Fact check: White House didn't fire pandemic response unit when it was disbanded in 2018
The claim: President Trump fired the 'entire' pandemic response team in 2018
From nearly the start of the coronavirus pandemic, critics, in particular, have pointed out that President Donald Trump dismantled the very team that should've been preparing for an outbreak.
"In 2018 Trump fired the ENTIRE pandemic response team," one recent social media post reads. "Keep re-posting this until the election."
The user behind the post did not respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
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Pandemic response unit was formed under Obama
In 2016, President Barack Obama expanded the National Security Council to include the Directorate of Global Health Security and Biodefense.
The unit, which focused in large part on pandemic preparedness, was formed in response to criticism of how his administration handled the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15, according to USA TODAY.
In May 2018, former national security adviser John Bolton restructured Trump's National Security Council and disbanded the global health unit. Its former head, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, resigned from the administration and was not replaced.
Tim Morrison, a former senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense on the NSC, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that he "inherited a strong and skilled staff in the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate" when he joined in July 2018.
"This team of national experts together drafted the National Biodefense Strategy of 2018 and an accompanying national security presidential memorandum to implement it; an executive order to modernize influenza vaccines; and coordinated the United States’ response to the Ebola epidemic in Congo, which was ultimately defeated in 2020," he wrote.
He also said that the reorganization of the NSC was necessary after the "bloat that occurred" under Obama, when the staff quadrupled to nearly 400 – a figure that even members of the Obama administration agreed was too large.
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Some personnel remained in the Trump administration
Though the unit was disbanded, not all members of the team left. Some moved to other units in the NSC, like those focused on weapons of mass destruction and international organizations, per The Washington Post.
At the time of the disbanding, National Security Council spokesman Robert Palladino told the Post the Trump administration "remains committed to global health, global health security and biodefense, and will continue to address these issues with the same resolve under the new structure.”
After the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in mid-March, the decision to disband the global health unit received fresh scrutiny. Bolton defended the restructuring on Twitter.
"Claims that streamlining NSC structures impaired our nation's bio defense are false," he wrote on March 13. "Global health remained a top NSC priority, and its expert team was critical to effectively handling the 2018-19 Africa Ebola crisis."
Bolton attributed the attack to partisan politics.
"The angry Left just can't stop attacking, even in a crisis," he wrote.
More:Experts say Trump's decision to disband pandemic team hindered coronavirus response
Even critics of the choice to disband the unit – like Beth Cameron, its head under Obama – noted that not all pandemic preparedness personnel left the administration.
"It’s impossible to assess the full impact of the 2018 decision to disband the White House office responsible for this work," she wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post in March. "Biological experts do remain in the White House and in our government."
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Our rating: Partly false
Based on our research, the claim that President Trump fired the "entire" pandemic response team is PARTLY FALSE. The Directorate of Global Health Security and Biodefense was disbanded under Trump's then-national security adviser John Bolton. But Trump didn't fire its members. Some resigned, and others moved to different units on the National Security Council.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, March 18, 'Gross misjudgment': Experts say Trump's decision to disband pandemic team hindered coronavirus response
- The Washington Post, May 10, 2018, Top White House official in charge of pandemic response exits abruptly
- Tim Morrison, March 16, No, the White House didn’t ‘dissolve’ its pandemic response office. I was there.
- John Bolton, March 14, Twitter
- Beth Cameron, March 13, I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it.
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