A previously unreported detail concerning President Donald Trump’s decision to ban travel from China reveals Trump’s strong leadership in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic and exposes the risk this country would face if Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders were our commander in chief.
On Jan. 31, 2020, the Trump administration announced that foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the past 14 days would be denied entry into the United States. At the time, the virus — which originated in the Wuhan province — had begun to spread uncontrollably throughout the communist nation. Trump’s China travel ban reduced arrivals from the hotspot to the United States by 90 percent and “prevent[ed] more cases from China coming into the United States.”
Since then, most medical experts, as well as ordinary Americans, have viewed Trump’s prophylactic travel ban from China as a life-saving decision that slowed the spread of the Wuhan virus in the United States. But few realize that Trump’s call was a tough one that went against the bureaucratic academic models crafted to help inform his decision.
Trump Rightly Went Against the Academic Model
A contentious exchange during the March 11 House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the coronavirus response revealed this reality. During the hearing, acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli explained he had advised the president to ban travel from China even though “the academic model suggested not to do that.” Cuccinelli further stressed that “the president was well aware” that the existing models recommended against a China travel ban but that Trump nonetheless instituted the ban.
Amazingly, rather than compliment Cuccinelli and Trump for their leadership, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada chastised the Trump administration for refusing to follow a flawed academic model:
I think you said earlier that you rejected the academic models that advised against travel boundaries or travel restrictions and gave the advice to the president to the contrary. What would make you think you could reject an academic model based on scientific study and evidence to advise the president? Was that like bad politics as opposed to good science? I think it probably [is that] this administration have very little respect for anything intellectual. And this is yet another example.
While Titus condemned Trump’s refusal to blindly follow an academic model, most Americans — if they knew of this detail — would likely applaud the president for his decisive leadership that likely saved countless American lives.
Trump’s subsequent decisions to ban travel from Iran, Italy, and the passport-free Schengen Area, which consists of 26 countries including many EU members, likewise limited Americans’ exposure to foreign-introduced cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, further preserving the health and lives of our citizens. As Trump explained at the time, he was banning travel from Europe because “the European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
“After consulting with our top government health professionals,” Trump told the nation, he “decided to take several strong but necessary actions to protect the health and well-being of all Americans,” including the ban on arrivals from the EU Schengen Area.
Joe Biden Wouldn’t Have Issued a Life-Saving Travel Ban
While medical experts believe Trump’s decision to implement additional travel bans further slowed the spread of the Wuhan virus in America, the president came under fire, this time by members of the EU.
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, issued a joint statement, saying, “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.” The two EU representatives continued, “The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”
Criticism of Trump’s executive decision to put Americans first also found a voice in Biden. The presumptive Democratic presidential candidate took to Twitter, noting, “A wall will not stop the coronavirus. Banning all travel from Europe — or any other part of the world — will not stop it.”
Biden offered other similar criticism of the president’s handling of the Wuhan virus, saying, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, to uh, and fearmongering.”
While Biden criticized Trump’s travel bans, the former vice president remained cryptic concerning whether, as president, he would have barred entry from China, Iran, the EU countries, and other coronavirus hotspots. But Biden’s recently unveiled position statement on responding to the Wuhan virus made no mention of a travel ban, indicating that Biden, like his remaining primary opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, opposes temporarily closing U.S. borders to protect Americans.
But by hedging the question in his comments to date — unlike Sanders, who explicitly said in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier that he would not close the borders — Biden bought room to flip-flop and later claim that as president he too would have made the hard decision to institute the travel bans that hindsight showed successful.
When that day comes, Americans should see through the bluster: There is no way Biden, Sanders, or any other potential Democratic president would have gone against the academic models’ conclusion to leave open travel from China. And there is no way a Democratic commander in chief would unilaterally cut off travel from the EU to put Americans first.
President Trump did. And he saved countless lives in doing so.