Former President Donald Trump reportedly asked his advisers during the start of the pandemic if he could send United States citizens to Guantánamo Bay if they were returning from overseas infected with coronavirus.
The account that Trump considered sending COVID-infected Americans to the infamous detention facility that’s presently housing individuals suspected of terrorism has been revealed in a new book by Washington Post journalists Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, titled Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History.
The book describes the Trump administration’s “dysfunctional response to the unfolding pandemic,” according to an article from The Post detailing these revelations. Nightmare Scenario relied on more than 180 interviews, including many with White House senior aides and government health officials during Trump’s time in office.
According to the book, Trump had asked his advisers about options for handling infected Americans returning to the U.S. as the pandemic was unfolding during a meeting in February 2020.
“Don’t we have an island that we own? What about Guantánamo?” Trump reportedly asked.
White House aides were stunned by the former president’s question. After Trump asked about it a second time, his advisers tried to dismiss his suggestion, fearful of the political consequences if implemented.
Trump appeared resistant to the idea that Americans be allowed to return to their homes. “We import goods. We are not going to import a virus,” he said during the meeting.
Trump was obsessed with how many Americans were being counted as infected, the book claims, as he blamed COVID testing for harming his political image. In a phone conversation with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in mid-March, Trump lambasted efforts to increase testing.
“I’m going to lose the election because of testing!” Trump reportedly said. “What idiot had the federal government do testing?”
Azar reminded Trump that it was his son-in-law who had, days earlier, announced he would head the country’s testing. The former president complained that it was “gross incompetence” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have developed a test for COVID-19.
While Trump and his advisers were scrambling behind the scenes to come up with a plan to deal with the virus, in public Trump continued to insist, wrongly, that the virus would disappear on its own, “like a miracle,” or that it wasn’t as big of a threat that disease experts were making it out to be. During political rallies, he also described criticisms of his actions (and inaction) in the early weeks of the pandemic as a new “hoax” created by his political adversaries.
Speaking privately to Bob Woodward, however, Trump also acknowledged that he was aware the virus was dangerous, telling the veteran journalist that coronavirus was “more deadly than… even your strenuous flus,” contradicting what he was saying at the time to the American people. Trump also said he purposely “wanted to always play it down,” telling Woodward he didn’t want to cause a panic in the country.
The missteps that were taken on early in the pandemic, combined with the failure of the Trump administration to unequivocally support necessary public health measures such as mask wearing and social distancing, contributed to the enormous death toll in the United States. By the time Trump exited office in January of this year, more than 400,000 Americans had died due to COVID-19. Had Trump taken more proactive steps in combating the spread of the virus (in addition to the U.S. health care system being better prepared for a pandemic), it’s estimated that around 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. — or approximately 160,000 of the 400,000 figure — could have been avoided, according to a report published by the Lancet Commission.
“[I]nstead of galvanizing the U.S. populace to fight the pandemic, President Trump publicly dismissed its threat (despite privately acknowledging it), discouraged action as infection spread, and eschewed international cooperation,” the report, published earlier this year, said.
As of June 15, more than 600,000 have died from the virus.