President Donald Trump is using the Coronavirus as a political weapon to reward his allies and punish his enemies, according to court documents filed on Monday morning.
City leaders in Costa Mesa, California are currently engaged in a volley of words and legal briefs with the Trump administration in general–and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in particular–over a plan to move several dozen Coronavirus patients from a military lockup facility to a civilian-run facility.
Local officials there are backed up by their counterparts in Orange County, as well as state and federal officials representing California.
The feud has been simmering for awhile–though the legal battle itself is only a few days old–as the woefully unprepared Trump administration scrambles to control the deadly outbreak.
The plan from Trump’s HHS to transfer the 50-plus patients out of military custody to a state-run facility have been vociferously opposed from the start–but the latest filings add an entirely new political dimension rife with themes of reward and retribution.
The struggle in the Monday filing paints the choices and preferences of HHS Director Alex Azar–seemingly acting on Trump’s behalf and/or in order to please his boss–as a tribal and partisan battle between red states and the bluest state in the nation.
The filing begins with decided aplomb:
If there were any doubt that the federal government has no plan and is not acting in the best interests of the community, those doubts have been laid to rest by the Federal Government’s most recent actions. On February 23, 2020, President Trump spoke with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby and promised to protect the people of Alabama by not sending Coronavirus patients to that state even though the facility there is a former military base, a multi-jurisdictional training center for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, and one of the most suitable in the country to handle the unique challenges of isolating and treating Coronavirus patients. Yet Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar confirmed to Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers that no one exposed to Coronavirus would be sent to the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama.
“Instead, it now seems like the entire national burden of isolating and caring for this entire cohort of people in the United States infected with the Coronavirus — and perhaps more, once Costa Mesa is established as the ‘go to’ place for these folks — will fall on the community of Costa Mesa and its surrounding cities,” the cities’ brief continues. “The Defendants have called this action interference with federal-state cooperation on federal quarantine issues. To the contrary, it has shined a light on the fact that the federal government is acting for arbitrary and capricious political reasons, and not based on the best scientific evidence or to protect the public.”
Far from subtle, the Costa Mesa lawsuit directly accuses Trump and his subordinates of using the deadly sickness as a cudgel against his enemies.
One section heading reads: “President Trump’s Promise to Alabama Confirms that Coronavirus Patients Pose a Public Health Risk, and Reveals the Federal Government’s Plan as an Effort to Use this Crisis as a Political Weapon.”
That section states its case plain:
President Trump put a finer point on the harm threatened against Costa Mesa Sunday when he promised to protect Alabama residents from this very same danger even though the facility in Alabama selected as a location to treat other Coronavirus patients is far more secure and suitable for this purpose. The public statements of Governor [Kay] Ivey, Senator Shelby, and Congressman Rogers thanking President Trump for cancelling the plans to use the Center for Domestic Preparedness and thereby “keeping Alabamians safe,” make clear that President Trump’s promise presumed that moving individuals with Coronavirus to the State of Alabama posed a danger to that state’s public health and safety.
Ivey recently moved to allay fears in her home state after it was reported that a FEMA Facility in Anniston, Alabama was being considered due to its highly-specialized nature and ability to handle such cases.
“Late Friday night, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) informed me about their proposal to transport Americans who have tested positive with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to a FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in Anniston,” Ivey’s statement said. “Sensing the urgency, I quickly informed the offices of Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones and Congressman Mike Rogers, as well as Dr. Scott Harris with the Alabama Department of Public Health. On Saturday, it appears that a press release from HHS was inadvertently, and perhaps prematurely, sent notifying the State of Alabama that these individuals were scheduled to begin transporting to Alabama as early as Wednesday.”
Instead, Ivey insisted, the Anniston facility was simply a “back-up plan.”
But California officials apparently smelled a rat.
“Because we were not given the opportunity to play a role in that decision, we decided that the only way we could stop the process was to seek a federal court judge’s help and get the injunction,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said at a slapdash press conference after she and other California officials were apparently blindsided by the Trump administration’s shifting proposal. “We are not going to continue to be the place where everybody drops off their crises and expects us to correct it.”
Again the filing at length [emphasis theirs]:
Moreover, if it were truly necessary to send the Coronavirus patients to new locations now, then President Trump would not have withdrawn the Government’s supposedly well thought out and scientifically based plan to locate the majority of those patients at a facility in Alabama uniquely qualified to handle this threat. And the people of Costa Mesa are now left to wonder if everyone infected with Coronavirus will be housed in a dilapidated former assisted living facility the State of California declared just three weeks ago to be unsuitable as an emergency shelter. Indeed, the State determined this facility could not be used even as an alternative to having people sleep on the street because it required two years and $25 million dollars in rehabilitation just to make it habitable. Are the people of Costa Mesa really supposed to believe this is the best location in the entire country to serve as the frontline for combatting [sic] and containing this potential epidemic?
“In the absence of any meaningful communication from the federal government, Plaintiffs and the people of Costa Mesa and Orange County are left wondering why their community was chosen and why Alabama was spared,” the filing continues before begging the question: “Why are secure federal facilities and specialized medical facilities inappropriate, but a rundown former home for people with developmental disabilities is perfectly situated to contain a dangerous and deadly disease?”
Read the full filing below:
[image via Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images]