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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump's political flexing shifts conversation from coronavirus fiascoes

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Monday with President Donald Trump. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

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Evidence grows about alarming flaws in the federal government's pandemic response.

The Wall Street Journal reports the Federal Emergency Management Agency entered the COVID-19 crisis with thousands of positions vacant — and the leadership of its parent, the Department of Homeland Security, obsessed with immigration. This adds to examples of how the Trump administration failed to mobilize earlier.

But while faced with doubts about his administration's ability to manage, President Donald Trump has rolled out a suspense-building device from his days on television. That is, he has once again stirred intrigue over whether he will fire someone.

Trump in recent days retweeted a message that ended with a call for the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Rather than bluntly criticize the popular Fauci's performance, Trump chose an indirect way to remind people who's boss, while the White House falsely blamed news organizations for "chatter" that he initiated.

In the past, the president created a similar buzz around whether he would keep former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House chief of staff John Kelly or former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on board — or even whether he'd keep Vice President Mike Pence for the 2020 ticket.

Results varied.

Trump called more attention to his importance when he said it was up to him, not the states, to decide how and when to reopen businesses and institutions.

"When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total," he said.

This echoes his earlier assertion that the Constitution's Article II lets him do whatever he wants, when any civics student knows the Constitution divides power between the states and federal government.

Governors have important emergency powers. But Trump clearly doesn't want to let anyone else announce what should be good news whenever it comes.

The president seemed fine, however, with letting local officials struggle with closings, quarantines and social distancing, along with the task of scaring up medical equipment.

This comes as no surprise. Democratic governments in big states have been clashing with the Trump administration from the outset over environmental regulations, tax policies and immigration enforcement.

Viewers of the president's daily briefings can be forgiven if they hear him and say: "This again." The 600,000-plus U.S. cases and 25,000-plus deaths are new; Trump's political spin is not.

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