Vice President Mike Pence this morning provided to Joe Biden the final report of the White House Coronavirus Task Force that he led for the past year, outlining everything that’s been done to fight the pandemic by the outgoing administration and where things stand for the incoming one. It is also a rough draft of history authored by Pence, the American who has been most responsible for fighting the once-in-a-century virus that continues to burn across the country, cripple the economy, and define the year just ended.
Until recently, Donald Trump was in the habit of heaping praise on Pence for his efforts. Once, when the president was turning a press conference over to his veep, he tried giving him an out. “If he’s not answering questions like he should,” Trump said only half-kiddingly, “we have a great reason — he hasn’t slept in about four weeks!” That much was true. COVID consumed him.
The Pence report, then, is an attempt to fill in the details of how the vice president and other task force members spent the last nine months in an all-consuming marathon. The document, which was obtained first by RealClearPolitics, details how the panel sped development of the vaccine, secured medical supplies, slashed regulatory red tape to hurry the creation of new therapeutics, invoked the Defense Production Act to manufacture medicines, boosted hospital capacity, instituted mitigation measures, and developed data systems to test for and track the virus.
“As of the date of this report, the supply chain has been strengthened, testing is available to all who need it, innovative therapeutics have been developed that are daily saving lives, and safe and effective vaccines are being distributed and administered across the land,” reads the forward.
What follows in the next 140 pages certainly paints a rosier picture than the real-time portrait of mistakes and headaches and squabbles detailed in the press. But the document does not contain any kind of “Mission: Accomplished” overstatement. The virus has not been defeated, and while the report insists that millions of lives were saved by the administration’s actions, the executive summary states flatly that “this is no declaration of victory.”
“More than 400,000 of our fellow Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus, and although hospitalizations and mortality rates are in nationwide decline, the virus continues to exact a toll on lives and livelihoods,” it reads. “But as we count that cost, it redoubles our determination to build on the progress we have made, and to restore this great nation and her people to health and to prosperity."
An end to the national nightmare will come, Pence and others in the outgoing administration have long insisted, because of the vaccines, and a significant portion of the report focuses on Operation Warp Speed, which helped develop that breakthrough. It notes, for instance, how the genetic sequence of the virus was released by researchers in China on Jan. 11, 2020, and how “just two days later” the National Institutes of Health partnered with the pharmaceutical company Moderna to design the “vaccine that the FDA would ultimately approve as safe and effective later that year.”
According to the Pence report, this was “nothing less than a medical miracle,” a rapid turnaround that along with other advances against the virus was possible “only in America.” The scourge that made that mobilization necessary, meanwhile, was the result not just of communist China’s incompetence but outright malfeasance, the outgoing vice president concludes.
“Little was known or understood about the novel virus,” the report notes of the situation one year ago, “and over the coming weeks China and the World Health Organization repeatedly disseminated incomplete and inaccurate health information that significantly obstructed the ability of the rest of the world to mount an informed response.”
What’s more, the reports adds that China allowed the virus to be exported: “Not only did China deliberately inhibit research and disclosure of essential information about the virus, but it also seeded the infection globally by facilitating international travel out of China, even as it imposed internal travel restrictions and hoarded PPE and medical supplies that would soon be urgently needed worldwide.”
It is perhaps the strongest condemnation of the Beijing regime by the former vice president to date. Any future criticism from Pence will come as a private citizen.
The Biden administration will immediately take up the task of distributing the inherited vaccines. Those officials are less than impressed. “We have had uneven cooperation,” a senior Biden official said last week before adding that “what we are inheriting from the Trump administration is much worse than we could have imagined.”
Needles started going into the arms Americans, beginning with health care workers, on Dec. 14. According to a state-by-state tally by Bloomberg News and data accumulated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15.6 million shots have been administered, an average of 806,716 doses per day (or about 4.7 doses per every 100 Americans). This is not enough, the Biden official told reporters: “As we've seen, the states are scrambling; there was really no plan to get needles in arms and there has been very little coordination.” The official added, “We're going to do just the opposite.”
Pence is used to criticism, and his opponents will likely point to his leadership of the task force as disqualifying him from realizing any White House ambitions. They will likely disregard the final report along with its charts and splashy pictures of Pence and Trump listening intently to experts and meeting with first responders. Critics such as Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo will probably skip the white paper altogether. But if they picked up a copy, they’d notice conspicuous pull quotes a few pages into the document.
The Pence report quotes the California governor saying of his conversation with Trump, “Every single thing he said, they followed up on,” and the New York governor thanking the White House for “moving quickly” and “delivering for New York.”
But the outgoing vice president didn’t bother with settling old scores in his report. The final words in the document, before an appendix and timeline, are instead apolitical: “A nationwide vaccination effort is underway, and every American has good reason to hope that our nation’s long period of trial and tribulation is finally coming to a close.
“The final chapter of the fight against COVID-19 remains to be written. But as the period of Vice President Pence’s leadership of the Task Force winds down, and the incoming Biden Administration prepares to take up the reins, Americans can be confident the nation is better equipped today than ever before to face and overcome the challenges ahead.”