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Two Democratic senators asked then-national security adviser John Bolton for a briefing on how the Trump administration was preparing for a pandemic after he disbanded the National Security Council’s global health security team.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray sent Bolton a letter about the reorganization in May 2018, noting that it “comes amid continuing concerns that the nation and the world are unprepared for pandemic outbreaks or other global health threats.”
At the time, there was an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The pair asked Bolton several questions about the National Security Council’s preparedness in handling a pandemic. They also requested a “staff-level briefing on the Administration’s global public health work” within two weeks.
Warren told Mother Jones that Bolton snubbed them. The senators did not get the briefing they requested, and they received a generic response to their questions.
The Massachusetts senator said Bolton’s lack of response was “the heart of why this [coronavirus] crisis is hitting so hard right now.”
“Our government has been run for the past three years by people who don’t believe in government or at least don’t believe in government except to help themselves and their friends,” she said. “The consequence of that is that they were willing day after day after day to strip out the people who perform the basic functions of government.”
Bolton, who was fired in September, claimed global health “remained a top NSC priority” after the restructure, saying he still had an “expert team” to address the issues.
Beth Cameron, who led the NSC Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, the team dismantled by Bolton, disputed that explanation.
“I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like COVID-19,” she wrote.
A former administration official said Bolton “immediately” acknowledged that he had received Warren and Murray’s letter, but Warren’s office never followed up with the NSC to continue the discussion.
“The response she was looking for was for the White House to appoint someone to manage global health security risks. And as we know, unfortunately, that never happened,” a Warren spokeswoman said.