Fact Check the Left: Did Trump Really Dissolve Obama-era Pandemic Response Unit?

Posted: Oct 08, 2020 2:35 PM
Fact Check the Left: Did Trump Really Dissolve Obama-era Pandemic Response Unit?

Source: AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Sen. Kamala Harris did not have a good night. She was a DNC attack line factory, sure. But she could not maneuver well when Vice President Mike Pence attacked her record last night. Pence also ripped into Joe Biden’s 40+-year track record as a public official who has done absolutely nothing other than win a reliably Democratic state over and over again. Pence was calm, collected, and delivered the kill shots when necessary. Robo-Kamala couldn’t deliver a knockout punch. The COVID segment was undoubtedly her strongest point, but she torched herself when she peddled anti-vaccine nonsense. She lied about Biden-Harris not banning fracking. We have the tapes. She had no clue that nixing tax cuts means raising taxes. And then, circling back to COVID, she accused the Trump-Pence administration of firing the entire Obama-era pandemic response unit. 

What’s great about this is that USA Today, the paper where the moderator of last night’s VP debate, Susan Page, work for fact-checked this claim eons as “partly false.” Trump didn’t fire the entire team, some even remained while others resigned or found other lines of work which is typical inside the beltway. There was a restructuring. That’s not the same thing, Kamala. And it was necessary as this new wing of the National Security Council had become bloated, which even former Obama officials agree  (via USA Today) [emphasis mine]

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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.

But that’s not the only claim. Democrats have alleged that the Trump administration cut the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic prevention work from 40+ countries to just 10. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) have lobbed that grenade and even stepped in last spring to say that’s wrong [emphasis mine]:

The director of the CDC’s Center for Global Health did say at the time that, without additional funding, its Division of Global Health Protection “will have to scale its global health security portfolio to focus efforts based on existing resources,” as theWall Street Journal first reported in January 2018. If that happened, the official said the CDC would shift its focus to just 10 “priority countries” and “plan for the completion of its country-based programs” in 39 other nations, the Journal’s story said. 

Those hypothetical cuts were avoided, however, because Congress later provided more funding for the CDC’s global health programs, the CDC told us in a statement.  

But inremarks from the Senate floor on Feb. 24, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer claimed the Trump administration made “drastic cuts to the global health division at CDC,” before saying, “In 2018, CDC was forced to reduce the number of countries it operated in from 49 to 10.”

Three days later, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut made asimilar claim on Twitter — though he used slightly different figures.

“President Obama set up anti-pandemic programs in 47 vulnerable countries, as a way to protect against something just like Coronavirus breaking out across the world,” Murphy wrote. “Experts begged Trump to keep them open. He closed 37 of them.”


As we said, the CDC told us that’s false.

CDC did not have to cut back its work from 49 to 10 countries,” saidMaureen Bartee, CDC’s associate director for Global Health Security, in a statement to “In the FY18-FY20 annual appropriations, CDC received base appropriations for global health security from Congress. This was used to continue the essential public health capacity development in the four core areas that was started in 2014 with the one-time supplemental funds.”

Those four core areas, Bartee said, are surveillance, laboratory systems, workforce development and emergency management and response. “Focusing on potential weak links in these core areas ensures that partner countries are better prepared to respond to disease threats, wherever they might begin,” she explained.

CDC operating budget plans show that its funding for global public health protection — which includes global disease detection and emergency response and global public health capacity — increased from $58 million in fiscal year 2017 to around $108 million in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

Do I even need to rate this, folks? It was pretty much a lie. Democrats got nothing on this, so they just make stuff up or engage in linguistic gymnastics worthy of a gold medal. The NSC was reorganized. It still does what the Obama-era pandemic unit did regarding its mission under the new structure. Some folks remained on board, but you'll never see that fleshed out in the many fact-checks by these fake news media outlets regarding last night's VP debate.