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Monday, March 16, 2020

Before Trump’s inauguration, a warning: ‘The worst influenza pandemic since 1918'

Before Trump’s inauguration, a warning: ‘The worst influenza pandemic since 1918'

“The 2016 law came about at the urging of the Partnership for Public Service, a good-government organization that helps administrations and candidates with the transition process. The emergency preparedness provisions were inspired by how George W. Bush handled his transition to Obama; that process, regarded as the gold standard for transition planning, included joint exercises on how to react to improvised explosive devices in cities. Bush had insisted on a detailed and highly coordinated transition planning in part because he felt scarred by the rushed transition he’d experienced from the Bill Clinton administration, not to mention having to deal with the Sept. 11 attacks during his first year.

“The idea was hatched after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina precisely to prepare for situations like today,” said David Marchick, director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition. 

The Obama and Trump teams met in the afternoon, sitting around tables arranged in a rectangle. Participants were given a binder of unclassified materials titled “Presidential Transition Exercise Series,” the contents of which were obtained by POLITICO. The purpose of the exercise, the documents state, was to “familiarize” the incoming team with “domestic incident management policy and practices and continuity of government programs” in case they faced a major crisis. One key goal was to explain to participants the various legal authorities they had to pursue a response, and which agencies had which capabilities and responsibilities. The references provided included detailed explanations of numerous laws and regulations that might affect their work, such as the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. 

Aside from the H9N2 pandemic exercise, the participants discussed the case study of how the Obama administration handled Hurricane Sandy in 2012. One section covered a potential cyber incident. Another went through how to respond to a domestic terrorism incident, in this case one carried out by a group of U.S. citizens who placed bombs in nearby spots during a major sporting event in a U.S. city. The terror squad not only detonates the bombs, it also engages in a mass shooting and takes a dozen hostages.

Using the materials, Monaco led the discussion. Her incoming counterpart, Tom Bossert, acted as a “semi co-chair,” attendees said. Ross, the then 79-year-old incoming Commerce secretary, was spotted with his eyes closed on more than one occasion. Elaine Chao, tapped to run the Department of Transportation, paid close attention. Several attendees noted the tense body language between Rice and Flynn, who lasted only a few weeks as Trump’s national security adviser was ousted amid questions over his dealings with Russian officials.

And then there was the Energy Department duo: Perry, the incoming secretary who previously served as the governor of Texas, and Moniz, the outgoing secretary and famed physicist. The pair seemed to get along fabulously, which stood out to other attendees given the overall distrust between the two teams and the fact that Perry had once proposed getting rid of the Energy Department altogether.

It was a “semi-bizarro lovefest” between the two, a fellow participant said. “They were ready to go make a buddy movie.” 

Perry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement, Moniz, who now leads the Energy Futures Initiative, said, “It is correct that [Perry] and I offered relevant perspectives from a governor’s and Cabinet secretary’s seat, respectively. As governor of Texas for a long time, Perry had been through many episodes needing crisis management.”

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