Amid Assurances on Ebola, He Is Said to Seethe…Beneath the calming reassurance that he has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response. Those frustrations spilled over when he convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.
“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry man said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.
The difference between the public and private messages illustrates the dilemma he faces on Ebola — and a range of other national security issues — as he tries to galvanize the response to a public health scare while not adding to the sense of panic fueled by 24-hour cable TV and the nonstop Twitter chatter.
On Friday, he took a step to both fix that response and reassure the public, naming Ron Klain, a former aide, to coordinate the government’s efforts on Ebola. The appointment followed his statement Thursday that the job was necessary “just to make sure that we are crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s going forward.”
“Part of the challenge is to be assertive, to be in command, and yet not feed a kind of panic that could easily evolve here,” said David, a close adviser in his first term. “It’s not enough to doggedly and persistently push for answers in meetings. You have to be seen doggedly and persistently pushing for answers.”
For two turbulent weeks, officials have sought to balance those imperatives: insisting the dangers to the American public were being overstated in the news media, while also moving quickly to increase the president’s demonstration of action.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and its arrival in the United States, is the latest in a cascade of crises that have stretched his national security staff thin. As the people scrambled to stop the spread of Ebola beyond a handful of cases, officials were also grappling with an escalating military campaign against the Islamic State, the specter of a new Cold War with Russia over Ukraine, and the virtual disintegration of Yemen, which has been a seedbed for Al Qaeda.
Senior officials said they pushed him to name an Ebola coordinator as a way of easing pressure on the staff at the National Security Council.
At the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, he placed much of the blame on the C.D.C., which provided shifting information about which threat category patients were in, and did not adequately train doctors and nurses at hospitals with Ebola cases on the proper protective procedures.
On Thursday night, in televised remarks, he sought to reassure the public about the dangers from Ebola. But the sense of crisis that emanated from headquarters was in sharp contrast to Sept. 30, when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had traveled to Dallas, tested positive for Ebola. He received a telephone briefing from Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., after which they issued a sanguine statement that concluded: “We have the infrastructure in place to respond safely and effectively.”
In the days that followed, he carried on as usual while his aides gamely added Ebola to their bulging portfolios. On Oct. 1, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and later had dinner with friends at the RPM Steakhouse in Chicago, where he had traveled for fund-raisers and to deliver an economic speech.
By early October, as questions about the Dallas hospital’s treatment of Mr. Duncan mounted, federal officials began reassessing their response, even as they continued to express confidence.
C.D.C. officials publicly dismissed the effectiveness of screening for Ebola at airports in the United States. But the secretary of Homeland Security, found a way to make it work over the weekend of Oct. 4. He announced the screening protocol the following Monday.
Even after Mr. Duncan’s death on Oct. 8, officials betrayed little sense of a change in approach. He traveled to California for campaign fund-raising and on his return to Washington, received a briefing from his secretary of health and human services about the announcement that a nurse who treated Mr. Duncan had contracted Ebola.
The business-as-usual sentiment at headquarters changed abruptly, officials said, when it got word early Wednesday that a second nurse in Dallas contracted the disease. The fact that she had traveled on a Frontier Airlines flight despite having a fever added to the concern, officials said.
“This Frontier thing took it out of the abstract thing and to this level where people could identify with and made them scared,” a senior official said. Within hours, aides canceled a planned trip by him to Connecticut and New Jersey. Hours later, Thursday’s trip to Rhode Island and New York City was also scrubbed.
This piece definitively demonstrates that both the watchers and the watchees know nothing. The senior of the 2 NYT reporters has been to a lot of countries but he and his colleague have never done anything in their lives other than observing people who do things. We’re reminded of Hilton Kramer’s critique.
In the NYT piece above the executives apparently are not consumed with the blindingly obvious action items we outlined, indeed they don’t seem to be thinking about them at all. And the reporters covering all this don’t even know enough to ask relevant questions. Recipe for disaster.