Dr. Fauci: Trump China Restrictions Slowed Spread of the Wuhan Flu

The known unknowns, and the constant known known

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 16, 2020
  • On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated that the Trump administration's decision to restrict travel from China in January slowed the spread of the Wuhan flu in the United States.
  • The president's actions were criticized shortly after he issued that order.
  • Those criticisms are similar to those made about other Trump immigration initiatives, in particular with respect to the construction of barriers along the Southwest border, the public charge rule, and "Remain in Mexico".

On ABC News "This Week" on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health, indicated that the Trump administration's early decision to ban most travel from China slowed the spread of the Wuhan flu in the United States. Of course, the president was criticized six weeks ago when he made that decision, but that is all too unfortunately to be expected when it comes to Donald Trump and immigration.

For those of you who are not familiar with Fauci, he is no Trump puppet, or even a Trump appointee per se. The immunologist has been the director of NIAID since 1984. He came to prominence during the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, and as his biography states: "He was one of the principal architects of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that has saved millions of lives throughout the developing world." No wonder he won the Presidential Medal of Freedom more than a decade ago.

Fauci also credited the other travel restrictions that the president has imposed:

What we're doing now with the other travel restrictions — so you block infections from coming in. And then within is when you have containment and mitigation. And that's the reason why the kinds of things we're doing that may seem like an over-reaction will keep us away from that worst-case scenario.

The president took heat for the China decision at the time. As FactCheck.org noted, at a February 5 hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation (captioned "The Wuhan Coronavirus: Assessing the Outbreak, the Response, and Regional Implications"), "several witnesses called by the Democrats expressed concerns about the travel restrictions and warned they could do more harm than good." That website continued:

And at least one Democrat agreed.

"The United States and other countries around the world have put in place unprecedented travel restrictions in response to the virus," said Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel. "These measures have not proven to improve public health outcomes, rather they tend to cause economic harm and to stoke racist and discriminatory responses to this epidemic."

A day earlier, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, who presided over the hearing, told Politico, "In our response we can't create prejudices and harbor anxieties toward one population." Bera told Politico the decision to impose travel restrictions "probably doesn't make sense" given that the outbreak had already spread to several other countries by that point. "At this juncture, it's going to be very hard to contain the virus," Bera said.

It is possible that those members (and the cited "witnesses") wish that they had the opportunity to "revise and extend their remarks", as they say on Capitol Hill.

I could not find any similar remarks with respect to the president's restrictions on travel by some European nationals, but interestingly, the Chinese criticized it, as Time reported:

Ordinary Chinese mocked Donald Trump's decision Wednesday to restrict travel between the U.S. and Europe, in another example of how the COVID-19 outbreak — which has so far sickened 126,000 and killed 4,600 across the globe—has become the latest political football in the tense relationship between Beijing and Washington.

Of course the Chinese also complained about the characterization of the disease in certain quarters, in particular the president calling it "a foreign virus", Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's description of it as the "Wuhan virus", along with similar statements from what Time describes as "the conservative media". Curiously, the journal that was once America's magazine of record took no notice of the name of the February 5 hearing, referenced above (and having appeared before Chairman Bera (D-Calif.), I can assure you that he is no conservative).

In any event, there is still much, even at this late date, that the U.S. government does not know about the Wuhan flu — or if they know it, they are not saying, an unlikely scenario, given the hourly inundation of information about it by federal and state authorities.

As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once stated:

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.

At the time that the president instituted the travel restrictions on certain Chinese nationals, the Wuhan flu was a "known unknown", and while it has become less so, as noted it is still not a "known known". One thing that is known, however, as Fauci alluded to, is that the restriction of individuals into a larger population can help control the spread of any communicable disease ("containment and mitigation"), and the president did just that.

Why did the president take the steps he did on January 31 with respect to travel from China? The White House explained in its proclamation of those restrictions:

During Fiscal Year 2019, an average of more than 14,000 people traveled to the United States from China each day, via both direct and indirect flights. The United States Government is unable to effectively evaluate and monitor all of the travelers continuing to arrive from China. The potential for widespread transmission of the virus by infected individuals seeking to enter the United States threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security. Given the importance of protecting persons within the United States from the threat of this harmful communicable disease, I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within the People's Republic of China, excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. [Emphasis added.]

Here is another "known known": whatever steps the president takes with respect to immigration are likely to be condemned (again, in certain quarters) as "racism". Erecting barriers along the Southwest border? A "monument to racism". Enforcement of the "public charge" rule? "Cruel and Racist". The Migration Protection Protocols ("MPP," also known as "Remain in Mexico")? It is "clearly designed to further this administration's racist agenda of keeping Hispanic and Latino populations from entering the United States."

With respect to the barriers along the border, as I have previously noted: "80 Senators ... voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006," including:

Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Tom Carper of Delaware, Hillary Clinton of New York, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Ron Wyden of Oregon, as well as Joe Biden of Delaware and Barack Obama of Illinois. And Chuck Schumer of New York.

Not a group the press commonly accuses of "racism".

With respect to the public charge rule, the New Yorker article linked to the quote above actually admitted: "The immediate precursor of the Trump Administration rule is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the welfare-reform law signed by Bill Clinton, in 1996." It asserted, however: "Some of the provisions of the law, such as those stripping benefits from people who were already in the country and receiving aid, were never enforced, but people complied with them anyway."

As if not enforcing laws you don't like is a good thing (and perhaps a modifier before "complied" would have been in order).

And of course, as I have noted numerous times:

MPP was enacted in accordance with sections 235(c)(2)(A) and (C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). That latter section of the INA (the "return clause") allows DHS to return an alien deemed inadmissible back across the border pending removal proceedings to the country they sought admission from, generally Mexico.

Those provisions were added to the INA by section 302 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) — again signed by President Bill Clinton. Of course when Donald Trump actually uses those sections of the INA . . .

In any event, Fauci, who is perhaps the world's foremost immunologist, indicated that the president's criticized restrictions on travel from China in late January have protected the United States from an outbreak of the Wuhan flu of the likes of which has been seen in Italy, a country of fewer than 63 million where 368 died of the illness on Sunday alone, and almost 25,000 have tested positive.

The coming weeks will, of course, tell how bad it will get here. But it could already be worse. In the interim, the press and the president's opponents can always fall back on their "known known".

Topics: Health Care