WH Counters Pritzker's Claim of Stinginess With Covid Aid

WH Counters Pritzker's Claim of Stinginess With Covid Aid
(Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
WH Counters Pritzker's Claim of Stinginess With Covid Aid
(Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
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The governor was palling around with penguins when the White House officially lost patience.

But the dust-up had nothing to do with the flightless birds at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, making cute cameos in a public safety announcement with J.B. Pritzker. What upset the White House happened earlier, when Illinois’ Democratic chief executive went on CNN to say that he had “given up” on receiving assistance from the federal government; he also announced that his state was “doing what we need to do despite” the president.

This, a White House spokesman tells RealClearPolitics, is more than inaccurate.

“Whether through ignorance or incompetence or a propensity to politicize everything, Governor Pritzker is not being truthful with the people of Illinois when he says his state has not been provided resources from President Trump’s administration,” said deputy press secretary, Judd Deere. Trump doesn’t see red or blue, Deere insisted, asserting that the president has directed federal aid to “every state regardless of the political affiliation of the state’s governor.”

And in the Illinois situation, the White House provided receipts. Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. The state followed suit on March 24. Supplies followed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased hospital capacity in the Chicago by more than 4,000 beds. The Defense Logistics Agency sent a decontamination system to the Windy City. As of last week, according to the White House, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had airlifted 1.1 million N95 facemasks, 4.3 million surgical masks, 1.9 million surgical gowns, and 65 million surgical gloves to Chicago.

There was also money. The Centers for Disease Control funneled $23.7 million to Illinois -- $12.2 million to its largest city specifically. The Department of Health and Human Services awarded another $51.6 million to 45 hospitals across the state. Another $1.2 billion followed.

A readout provided by the White House details various government agencies pouring tens of billions of dollars into a state that Trump lost in the last presidential election by 17 percentage points.

The dollars and the pallets of supplies were not enough to temper Pritzker. He questioned whether Trump understood the word “federal.” He compared him to “the carnival barkers that are tweeting from the cheap seats.” Illinois, meanwhile, ranks seventh in the nation with 25,733 confirmed cases of coronavirus by late Friday.

Pritzker’s office did not return RCP’s requests for comment.

Other state governors with more infection cases have been critical of, but less aggressive toward, the administration.

"I’d be lying to you to say that he hasn’t been responsive to our needs. He has," California’s Gavin Newsom told CNN's Jake Tapper on April 2. "And so … as a sort of an offer of objectivity, I have to acknowledge that publicly."

"He has delivered for New York. He has," that state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said of the president last week. The two have feuded plenty of times during the pandemic, but the Democratic executive explained that his relationship with the president has, “by and large … worked.”

Across the country, governors need medical supplies. Flattery or fighting have become the two defaults approaches state executives have taken in seeking them from the federal government. The White House insists that supplies have gone wherever they are most needed.

In earlier days of the pandemic, Trump demanded gratitude. “All I want them to do, very simple, I want them to be appreciative,” he said in March. “I don't want them to say things that aren't true. I want them to be appreciative. We've done a great job.”

Trump doesn’t forget the combative governors, the White House said. He passes them off to the vice president. This includes Pritzker. Mike Pence is in regular communication with him, a spokeswoman told RCP, and the conversations are “always cordial.” The former head of government in neighboring Indiana, she continued, “always has an open mind for governors.”

Judgment of the administration’s crisis response is happening in real-time and, with the presidential election inching closer, political fights are part of the picture. The coronavirus has rapidly become the defining issue of the 2020 campaign with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden delivering shadow briefings almost daily to counter Trump’s messaging.

And though Pritzker has become a favorite of the cable news circuit, his latest quest for personal protection equipment was supposed to fly under the radar: He spent $174 million to buy masks, gloves, gowns and ventilators from China. He was worried, the Chicago Sun Times reported, that the president would seize PPE for the federal stockpile. Secrecy had been necessary, Pritzker announced to the press, because “the federal government seems to be interrupting supplies that are being sent elsewhere in the nation.”

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