JUDY WOODRUFF: Governing in a crisis like the current pandemic can define a presidency.
We were interested to ask whether history offers any guide to the present.
MAN: The president of the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On Monday, surrounded by aides in masks, and as the U.S. death toll from
COVID-19 passed 80,000, President Donald Trump declared victory in the battle to ramp up
DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: In every generation, through every challenge
and hardship and danger, America has risen to the task. We have met the moment, and we
JUDY WOODRUFF: For many, that echoed another moment in 2003, when President George W. Bush
spoke two months after launching the war in Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, Former President of the United States: Major combat operations have ended.
In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: That conflict would rage on for nearly nine more years, ultimately claiming
more than 4,400 American lives, hundreds of thousands more Iraqi lives, and fail to produce
the alleged weapons of mass destruction.
President Bush faced major crises early in each of his terms. The attacks of September
11, 2001, came just eight months into his presidency and killed nearly 3,000 Americans.
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the summer of 2005, killing over 1,800 Americans and
displacing hundreds of thousands more.
And then, in 2008, the housing bubble burst.
BARACK OBAMA, Former President of the United States: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly
JUDY WOODRUFF: The fallout quickly became President Obama's problem. As financial markets
seized up, major U.S. industries like automakers teetered on the brink of collapse, and millions
of Americans lost their jobs.
BARACK OBAMA: A failure to act will only deepen this crisis, as well as the pain felt by millions
JUDY WOODRUFF: 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest
BARACK OBAMA: The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking
JUDY WOODRUFF: Two years later came the attacks on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and,
at home, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Connecticut's Sandy Hook
And, in 2014, intense protests erupted over the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson,
Joining us now are two key figures previous presidents have relied upon during times of
national emergency. Andrew Card served as chief of staff to President George W. Bush
and he helped to lead the administration's response after 9/11. He is now chair of the
National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit organization in Washington.
And former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, he served as President Obama's first chief of
staff, at the height of the Great Recession.
Welcome to both of you. It's so good to see you.
Let me ask you, first, is there really any way to prepare for a crisis like this one,
Rahm Emanuel, I mean, you didn't face anything quite like this, did you?
RAHM EMANUEL (D), Former Mayor of Chicago: Well, not like this, but we faced multitude.
The difference is, this is a singular crisis. We faced a crisis of a Great Recession, two
of the longest wars in American history, an auto industry and a manufacturing base that
was going to collapse, and a financial sector that had totally contracted.
So it was a multiple series of dominoes that were crises across the board, rather than
one public health crisis instigating and causing an economic contraction of unseen proportions,
far greater, obviously, than what we faced on the eve of 2009.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you're right. It was a lot.
And, Andy Card, you dealt with a lot, not only under...
JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.
RAHM EMANUEL: I used to be 6'2'' and 250 pounds.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead, Andy.
ANDREW CARD, Former George W. Bush White House Chief of Staff: Every president has to deal
with something that they didn't want to have to deal with.
George W. Bush had a number of challenges. Obviously, 9/11 was the biggest one, in addition
to the Great Recession that started under his watch. But this is kind of a unique challenge
for the United States, but it isn't as if somebody didn't tell us that it could happen.
George W. Bush gave a speech at the United Nations in September of 2005 where we called
for the world to be prepared for a pandemic. I don't know when it's going to come, but
it's going to come. And then he followed up with a major speech in November. It was actually
November 1, 2005, where he challenged America to get ready to deal with a pandemic.
And he said, we don't have one going on now, but we have to be prepared for doing it. He
called for Congress to appropriate $7.1 billion to get ready for a pandemic. He said, you
don't know when it's going to hit, but it's likely to hit.
And that was a wonderful road map to deal with the challenges that we have today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, given that, Rahm Emanuel, what has this president done right, and what
has he done wrong?
RAHM EMANUEL: Well, look, I do think that the order they put out about what are the
metrics for kind of starting to open up society and the economy were the right metrics.
I don't think what you would do the day you put them out, put out a tweet and say, liberate
Michigan, liberate Minnesota and Virginia, and undermine the very premises of there.
I don't think they have done -- and I think one of the things the president should be
doing, one is, this should be a time where you actually aspire towards malice towards
none, charity towards all, rather than the inverse, which is malice towards all and charity
I don't think he's brought the country united. And I actually think one of the great silver
linings here is that the United States has discovered how much we actually all have our
sense of community and neighbor. And a lot of times, we talk about our divisions. I actually
would say there's -- the highlight here is the unity and togetherness that's there, and
the president should aspire towards that.
The second thing is, rather than not just dividing, I think the biggest loss and the
biggest problem was, rather than in what every pandemic, what every crisis shows, deal with
it fast and furious, we have been slow and sloppy.
Those first nine weeks were a crucial nine weeks. Rather than denying what was going
to be a serious problem, rather than deferring, ignoring, even with intelligence and public
health warnings, that nine weeks was a costly nine weeks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Andy, what about these points, that when it comes to building community,
and, frankly, when it comes to speed, this administration could have done a lot better?
ANDREW CARD: Well, the president did a good job of calling us all to attention. We came
to attention. I think it was a little bit tardy.
And I don't fault the president, because I actually think he was on it pretty quickly
by stopping people from coming in from China. But I think the rest of the administration
maybe wasn't really sounding the alarm the way they should have, because it was easy
to anticipate that this was likely to happen.
And I know some believed that, but I think too many people in the White House maybe weren't
heeding the call to action that was coming from CDC and NIH.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And in a situation like that, Rahm, how much of it is the responsibility
of the man at the top, the president, and how much of it can be laid on the shoulders
of the people who are working for them?
RAHM EMANUEL: I don't -- I slightly disagree with Andy.
The intelligence agencies, HHS, were giving the warning to the White House. There's a
reason Harry S. Truman is famous for, the buck stops here, because nobody at the third
floor at Health and Human Services can call together entire government with a sense of
urgency like the Oval Office.
Andy and I both know, when you're the chief of staff, and you pick up the phone and say,
the president wants, people kind of get focused and real serious. If people says, the undersecretary
of Health and Human Services wants, hey, let me put you on hold. I will get back to you
It's a real difference. And I -- I'm sorry. The first eight -- these first eight weeks,
when the president said it would just disappear -- and I'm not -- this is not -- I'm not trying
to make a partisan point.
When it comes to pandemic or a crisis, Andy and I both know what you do in those first
nine weeks, or first eight weeks, or first six weeks is crucial. And the slow and sloppy
start is a -- costly for lives and for the ability of America to move forward fast.
And that has been very costly to the United States. And the president owns that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Andy Card?
ANDREW CARD: The president does own it. And I understand that.
But I also feel that maybe the other people at the White House -- I'm not talking about
the agencies. I know the intelligence community was sounding an alarm.
But I think too many people maybe at the White House were not saying that this was a serious
thing. Peter Navarro evidently knew it. I'm not sure how often he was saying it inside
the White House.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to finally come back to both of you on this point that Rahm
touched on earlier.
And that is the role of the president in inspiring the country, in bringing the country together.
When you think back to whether it's FDR in World War II or Ronald Reagan after the Challenger
disaster, Rahm Emanuel, how -- what criteria should we use in judging a president in that
regard at a moment like this?
RAHM EMANUEL: Well, it's part of the presidential responsibility to give the singular office
a voice to the country.
And I do think we're united and ready to move forward, and he could marshal that resources.
The president spoke for all of us, President Bush, on the ashes of 9/11 at the World Trade
Center when he says, they will hear our voices.
President Clinton, in Oklahoma, when we saw the first domestic terrorism, at the ceremony
there, he said, we will be by your side as many tomorrows as it takes.
President Obama, in South Carolina spoke, and when he sang "Amazing Grace," he touched
a chord of our humanity.
And I think what's missing here, given the sense of unite -- unity that really exists,
that the president could actually take it to another level. And I think the reason governors
are doing so well is because they see somebody that's trying bring us together and move forward.
And, remember, President Kennedy once said, to govern is to choose between bad and worse.
And the president, in this case, in my view, is squandering a unique opportunity to bring
the country together with a singularity of both spirit and mission.
And I think that is what, I think, is essential for the president. And I think he's actually
falling short, which is why the public is judging him this way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Andy Card, finally, what about President Trump on this question of inspiration?
ANDREW CARD: Well, he has not been inspirational. He does have a tendency to listen more to
rosy scenario as an adviser than the reality that, you know, America is strong, the people
Governors and individuals are making a big difference to help, you know, bring this curve
down, so that it doesn't overwhelm our health care system, and pay attention to what the
scientists are telling us to do, to self-distance and be very careful.
But President Bush was right when he most recently said, a pandemic doesn't know a Republican
or a Democrat. It's there for everybody. This is not a war against anyone. This is a battle
against a disease that is all-consuming, and we have got to be all in it together.
So, don't divide, bring together. We can get through this, but we have to do it together.
And I wish the president, the current president, would offer that invitation more, so that
we could all say, this is our battle. We're all in it together.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Rahm Emanuel, Andy Card, two people who have been there at the White House
in moments of crisis, we thank you both.
RAHM EMANUEL: Thank you, Judy.