The Competency Episode, with Ron Klain
Andy seeks out a conversation on competency. Things change rapidly in a crisis. When you’re in the middle of it, not knowing how everything will turn out can be stomach-churning, and big problems look way easier in hindsight. Having led a major government crisis-response, Andy gets this, and so does Ron Klain, who was the Ebola Czar during the Obama Administration. So, today, they talk about past crises and the best way to respond to today’s challenges. To keep it non-partisan, Andy also speaks to Lanhee Chen, Mitt Romney’s health policy director during his 2012 presidential campaign, who has seen and responded to the COVID-19 crisis on the ground in California and with Washington policymakers.
[00:01] Barack Obama: America, in the end, is not defined by fear. That’s not who we are. America is defined by possibility, and when we see a problem and we see a challenge, then we fix it. We don’t just react based on our fears. We react based on facts and judgment and making smart decisions. That’s how we have built this country and sustained this country and protected this country.
[00:34] Andy Slavitt: Hi, it’s Andy Slavitt and Zach Slavitt. Welcome to In the Bubble. So it occurs to me that a lot of us are sort of a bit feeling at a loss at this point in time. We’re tired and we kind of really want to know what to do. And no one’s telling us. I mean, sure, some people are telling us what we can do, other people are telling us what we shouldn’t do. But it kind of feels like a terrible squeeze. Like if we go back to work, we could be exposing ourselves and our family if we’re out more. But if we’re not, there’s a lot of other consequences. Schools, if they’re closed, states running out of money, impacts on the election and graduations, prolonged bad economy.
[01:18] Andy Slavitt: So it just doesn’t feel great. It feels like we’re right in the middle of some maze, and we don’t know which way to get out. And that’s probably pretty accurate. But I think the point of today’s episode is to show that these problems can be solved. And the voice that you heard at the beginning of this show was my former boss, probably a name you recognize, Barack Obama. And Barack Obama, who was 44th president of United States, was talking to the country at the time of the Ebola crisis. And the Ebola crisis was at one point every bit as scary and uncertain as the Covid-19 crisis. Now, it didn’t turn out as bad for a couple of reasons, but still, I think the message he delivers, and the one that I’m focused on today, is in retrospect, when we look back on time periods, it always seems like there was a beginning, a middle and an end to the problem. We just didn’t necessarily know it at the time. So today, we don’t really know what’s the best time for states to open up? What’s the best time to get on airplanes again? And when we don’t know, sometimes we’re in a position where it’s best to be careful. And I think that’s sort of how we’re dealing with things here at Slavitt household. But it’s also a time to achieve what you can achieve. Zachary doesn’t know whether he’s going to go away to college in the fall, but he does know that whatever happens, he’s going to have an experience that is going to make the best of. And until we are able to test every American, we know we’re gonna be taking certain kinds of risk. The person that President Obama asked to take the lead on the Ebola crisis is our guest today, Ron Klain. I served with Ron. I think you’ll really enjoy the conversation with Ron, because it’s not so much about the politics of one administration versus the other. It’s about how to come in and do the job. After Ron’s on, we’ve got a special treat, and we got another really high-caliber guest. I wanted to talk to someone who would be sort of a Ron Klain equivalent in Republican circles. And I talked to Lanhee Chen, who, if you haven’t heard of Lanhee, he was part of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012. Really knowledgeable healthcare person. And we’re going to have a very similar but much briefer conversation to the one we had with Ron.
[03:32] Andy Slavitt: All right, Zach, do you have some facts for us today?
[03:37] Zach Slavitt: Yes, I do. So recently there’s been a lot of talk about if there’s immunity from people who already have had coronavirus. And South Korea has just done a study that showed it’s impossible for the virus to re-infect humans, which has led the CEO of Roche, a big global pharmaceutical company that is working on an antibody test, to say that it’s very likely people will have immunity, although it’s still unknown about the timetable.
[04:11] Andy Slavitt: Why are these antibody tests important?
[04:12] Zach Slavitt: Well, the antibody test is especially important going with what they just figured out, because it could show not only how far spread the disease is, but also who can be immune potentially, based on this.
[04:28] Andy Slavitt: And you think it’s important that we figure out who is immune for what reason? Is it important because — what?
[04:38] Zach Slavitt: The food.
[04:41] aa: OK, I have more questions for Zach, but he literally has food in the oven that he wants to attend to, which is I think, what happens when you mix business and home pleasures. Go ahead. Go get your go get your lunch. What are you eating?
[04:53] Zach Slavitt: Salmon.
[04:54] Andy Slavitt: Salmon? You’re a healthy kid. Great. OK, well, that was Zach’s Fact today about antibodies and antibody tests. So at a critical moment in this interview, you’ll notice a dog barking. Now, I want you to know that dog barking was not Brody, our dog here, who has a deep, fierce sounding bark. Not a fierce dog, but he’s got a deep bark. This is more like a yip. And so it’s coming from Ron’s end of the conversation. Could be Ron’s, could be a neighbor. I’m not going to say which.
[05:30] Ron Klain: Hey, it’s Ron.
[05:31] Andy Slavitt: How you doing, Ron?
[05:34] Ron Klain: Well, I feel like I’m the least famous person to appear on the Andy Slavitt podcast.
[05:39] Andy Slavitt: That is so the opposite of true.
[05:40] Ron Klain: Nah, that’s a lot of big names, man. You’re really reeling in the big names.
[05:46] Andy Slavitt: Speaking of big names, I want to introduce you to my 18-year-old Zach, who is in here.
[05:50] Ron Klain: Awesome. Zach, nice to meet you.
[05:51] Andy Slavitt: Zach said, is that Ron Klain, the Ebola czar? I want to try to capture a little bit of, just to start with, the feeling of walking into a crisis. People know you from a lot of places. Some people may remember you from Bush-Gore. Some people may remember you from being Vice President Biden’s chief of staff, or Al Gore’s chief of staff. I know you from lots of different things. But for many people in this country, you were the person that President Obama called and Joe Biden called when we needed somebody, in the face of what I think was a lot of uncertainty, to come in and run the show. Tell me what that phone call was like. How did it happen? And kind of what were you thinking, and what did it feel like as you started gathering your thoughts and walking in day one?
[06:39] Ron Klain: Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I was sitting at my desk on a Wednesday in October and the phone rang. It was Denis McDonough, who was President Obama’s chief of staff and a friend. And they said, hey, the president is going to call you in an hour or so and he’s got an assignment for you. And I said, OK, well, sure, always happy to take that call. And I said, what is it? He said, well, he wants to come in and coordinate this Ebola response. And I was surprised because I had no background in medicine or science, not a public health expert. And I said, but, you know, I’ll listen. President called an hour later, as Denis said, and offered me the position. And I thought about it in the intervening hour. And I said, well, Mr. President, if you pick me to do this job, a lot of people are going to think it’s a horrible choice. They’re going to think we should have a doctor, you should have a medical expert. And, you know, I’m going to kind of get killed for taking the job. You’re going to kind of get killed for picking me. And the president said, look, I already have the best medical experts in the world on my team. And bringing in another medical expert would just add to confusion. What’s happening is that their advice, which is smart advice, we’re having trouble turning it into reality. We need to really operationalize this response. We need to make the government work faster. We need to make the agencies work faster. And I’ve seen you do that before, and that’s what I want you to do. That’s why I picked you. And he said, as for the politics of it, he said, I’ve thought about that. I think there are two possible outcomes here. The first is you come in, you do a good job. And with the help of a lot of people around the world, we beat this disease. And then what people say on the day I picked you doesn’t really matter. Or you come in and you do a horrible job and a lot of people die, and then what people say on the day I picked you doesn’t really matter. So either way, I don’t really care what people are going to say on the day I picked you. I care about us getting this right. That’s how that conversation went. It was hard to say no in the face of that. And four or five days later, I was on the job at the White House.
[08:31] Andy Slavitt: Remind us of what the world situation was at that time, because with the benefit of hindsight, we all know that we contained Ebola and it didn’t do the damage that this virus is doing or that it could have done at the time. But at the time, even describing some of the features of what happened when people got it, the fatality rate, how much it spread, what we’d witnessed in Africa. Can you just paint a little bit of the picture of what you knew at the time? Just to show how much was unknown and how much was uncertain?
[09:02] Ron Klain: Yes. I think there are a lot of ways in which this Covid is situation obviously is much worse and more scary. Covid spreads much more easily than Ebola does. And it broke out in an area that was much more populous, in China, and obviously much more connected to the rest of the world. So it spread around the world much more quickly. But there are ways in which Ebola was just as scary or scarier. Ebola’s much more fatal than Covid. You know, I think we’re going to learn that maybe the fatality rate from people with Covid is like 1 percent. At the time when Ebola was breaking out was about 70 percent. So getting Ebola was almost certainly a death sentence. That was scarier. And it was spreading very, very rapidly in West Africa. It had broken out in three countries that were not that populous. But in those three countries, it was spreading with incredible rapidity.
[09:55] Ron Klain: So by the time we got to the fall of 2014, there were fears that it was going to spread through those three countries, spread to adjacent Nigeria, which is very populous. That includes Lagos, one of the world’s great mega-cities. And from there, we’d be off to a real global crisis. And so we had a chance to try to contain it in those three countries, to try to fight it there. We also, though, didn’t know it was going to eventually — occasional cases, even without more widespread transmission, occasional cases would show up in other places. And we’d had in late September, someone come to our country from Liberia, Thomas Eric Duncan, be misdiagnosed in a hospital in Dallas, wind up dying from Ebola and giving the disease to two nurses there. So we’d had some spread of it, very minor, but some spread of it here in the U.S. And that’s the situation we were facing in October of 2014, which was some spread of a very lethal disease here in the U.S., uncontrolled spread in three smaller countries in West Africa, with the possibly of it spreading to other places in Africa. And from there to Europe and the United States more broadly. And the need to really step up and ramp up our action in response to that. [10:58][63.2]
[12:18] Lana Slavitt: We are very grateful for the support of our listeners. So far, over 100 of you have already signed up to support In the Bubble on Patreon. Thank you. If you’re enjoying In the Bubble, please consider pitching in to help the show continue to grow. You can sign up as a member for as little as five dollars per month at LemonadaMedia.com/InTheBubble. Your support will cover the costs of production, and any remaining profit for Andy and Zach will get donated to Covid relief efforts.
[12:55] Andy Slavitt: You mentioned politics earlier and the president, who I think wisely said, that this is not going to be judged based upon what it is today, but how this turns out. Yet you were right in the front-end of a congressional election. Were you feeling like you had to balance politics around getting the job done? Or did you feel like you could put on blinders?
[13:17] Ron Klain: Well, President Obama’s instructions to us were very clear, to put on those blinders. And I mean, I think the way in which he handled this, and the way in which President Trump has handled Covid, are about as different as night day. President Obama put science and medicine first, and really focused on getting the job done. And always had the view that if we fought an effective fight against Ebola in West Africa, dealt with the preparation of the homeland for rare cases, dealt with those cases successfully here in the U.S. and did the right things, then he would let the results speak for themselves. We’ve seen President Trump really since day one tried to spin the disease, try to say it wasn’t going to be a problem, say it was going away like a miracle. All these things. Then stand up almost every day and do these crazy press conferences where he’s spreading misinformation and telling people things are better than they are and all these things. Whereas, you know, we really focused on science, medicine, getting the response right. And then to the extent the president communicated with the public about Ebola, always trying to be very candid about it, telling people that there was a risk, we had cases in the U.S. What we were doing to get ready for it. It was the right way to be a leader in the situation and it was in the best interests of the American people.
[14:28] Andy Slavitt: OK, so back in there, you just arrived, you’ve got a crew of people around you. What did you think needed to be done? Well, first of all, how did you just even begin to understand and ask the questions of what were the most important things to do? And along with that, what was scaring the pants off of you at the time?
[14:46] Ron Klain: So I would say the problem with a problem like this is there is no one most important thing to do. You kind of have to move forward on all fronts simultaneously, because nothing can really wait for other things to be in place. And so obviously, we had to focus on really ramping up the response in West Africa. And the challenge there was a multiple-pronged challenge. First of all, there was still a lot of cultural resistance in West Africa. People in West Africa didn’t believe Ebola was a real thing. Some believed that it was something that the Western relief workers who’d come to help fight disease had actually brought to the country, wrongly. There were problems with cultural practices. Ebola largely spreads through touch. It’s not like an airborne disease. And the way it was really spreading in West Africa was through a burial ritual that was a cultural ritual there, which involves washing the dead. It’s very common ritual in many cultures. But when people die from Ebola, they shed the virus through their skin. They’re actually most infectious at the time of death. And so this ritual of washing bodies was spreading the disease like wildfire. And you had to find ways to change people’s behaviors, to get them to stop washing dead bodies. That was a big challenge. And then you had a critical challenge in health care systems. Health care systems in West Africa were weak in the first place. Health care workers had been the first victims of Ebola. Literally a thousand had died in countries that had very few health care workers in the first place. And the facilities themselves were just filled with Ebola patients. People who came in for other things were getting sick. So we had to build Ebola treatment units quickly in West Africa to get the Ebola patients out of the hospitals. We had to build community responses to all of these things. President Obama had ordered the first ever deployment of U.S. troops to fight an epidemic, Operation Night Assistance. We sent 3,000 troops to West Africa to help with this logistical challenge. We’d sent 10,000 civilians to be on the ground in West Africa. Aid workers, medical personnel, all kinds of specialties and talents. Staff from CMS went, civilians went, contractors, all kinds of people went, you know, to help buttress this.
[16:53] Ron Klain: And then we had really great partners. We worked closely with the United Kingdom. We worked closely with France, in particular in Guinea, which is a French-speaking country, one of the three countries where this disease was breaking out. So, you know, it really was a global effort, but it started — I think it’s always important to remember that in fighting this in West Africa — it started and ended with the people of West Africa themselves. They were the ones who paid the highest price in this fight. They were the ones who made the changes to get the disease under control. They were the ones who staffed most of these clinics, who dealt with the sick people, who really did the hard work. We were there to help them. We were there to support them. But they really were the frontline heroes doing the most important work. Here at home, we faced a bunch of challenges that will look similar to people who are living through Covid now. We had to get our testing ramped up so we could find cases of Ebola. We had to do contact tracing on anyone who had been to West Africa or had any kind of exposure. You have a system for monitoring potential cases, for tracking people who might have been to West Africa or might have contact with West Africa. We had to get health care facilities ready to deal with those cases PPE and protective gear. So we faced a lot of the same challenges that we’re facing now in Covid and had to deal with them in real time.
[18:10] Andy Slavitt: Yep. And I heard you might have even left behind a manual on how to do those things.
[18:12] Ron Klain: pYes, indeed, we did.
[18:13] Andy Slavitt: But that’s a story for another time when the crisis is long over, I am struck by something you said earlier, which I knew to be true, but I hadn’t really focused on it, which was that you were not a public health specialist. And what’s so interesting about that is, Larry Brilliant — who many people know is the scientist that cured smallpox and was the scientist behind the movie Contagion, which is a very good movie — did this lengthy interview and the last question he was asked, his ultimate question was, “OK, if you were there right now in the White House, what would you do?” And he said, “oh, it’s easy. One thing. I’d hire Ron Klain. I’d walk out on the stage and I’d say, here’s the person who’s in charge,” and he’d introduce you. That’s really high praise. And I’m not saying it to embarrass you. I lived through it and know what he’s talking about. But I want to turn that into a challenge, which is assuming you were called in right now and said, Ron, we need you to take charge of the situation. And I’m asking this not in a way that I expect you to be critical of the current people there, but more what do you think are the national priorities, the things that you would be most focused on?
[19:24] Ron Klain: Larry was very generous to say that. He certainly provided superb advice as part of this effort on Ebola five years ago. And so I’m grateful that he said that. I mean, look, I think I would start with testing as the place where we’re the furthest behind and in the most need of federal action. I mean, I guess I would start one step behind that, which is I would start with reorienting our entire approach to this, which has been our view that the federal government is simply going to just kind of hold a bunch of press conferences and kind of help out how it can. But really, we’ve left the states to run their own response. We’ve left the governors and health care providers to source their own PPE. We’ve kind of said every state’s kind of on its own for testing. Every state’s on its own for social distancing measures, every state’s on its own for reversing those measures. And I think that is a horrible mistake. I understand the temptation to take this burden off the federal government. I understand that taking it on is taking on quite a lot. But there’s no state-by-state solution to a national crisis. And we’ve seen that unfold in painful detail over these past few weeks, as hospitals are unable to get the gear they need, as the testing problem continues to be a disaster, so on, so forth. So I think you need to nationalize this. That’s point one. Point two, I think that nationalization really starts with testing. I think the president should use the Defense Production Act to take control of the production of many of the key elements of the testing solutions. I think we should just be ordering everything we can get our hands on, and all the PPE we can get our hands on, ordering more production of the materials and making sure that it’s going where it needs to go. I think one other problem with this decentralized solution has been that we have some states that have stuff and other states that don’t. Not necessarily the right states with the right stuff at the right time. This is something we saw on Ebola, which was that, you know, if you just let everyone kind of go off and do their own thing, you know, some people will wind up with face shields but not gloves. Some people with gloves but not face shields. Some people with this kind of thing and not that kind of thing. You just need a coordinated approach. It does definitely take a lot of problems on. I think that’s the biggest thing we’re missing here. And as a result, we have this spectacle, right, of governors saying, I bought a bunch of stuff, my National Guard is guarding the things I bought because I’m afraid the federal government is going to come take it from me. That’s just craziness.
[21:52] Andy Slavitt: Right. And I think the question of how you walk into a situation, and are brought in to fix it, and yet don’t have full and complete accountability, and want to leave the accountability to others, to the states, I don’t know politically whether that will work for Trump. Maybe he’ll be successful in running his reelection by saying, I’m not accountable for all the things that went on. Everything good that happened, we did. The things that you’re not happy with, you know, those are your governors’ decisions. Maybe that’s a brilliant political strategy. But it feels to me like the thing that you explained and that I experienced in turning around the ACA was the president asked me not to worry about politics. The one occasion I asked him about the politics, he said, that’s really not your job. You’re job is to tell me what you think the best answer is in a nicer way than that.
[23:35] Andy Slavitt: Let’s shift a little bit to the politics of the situation. You were Vice President Biden’s chief of staff. You are very close to the Vice President and are part of his campaign. How difficult is this campaign to run in this type of situation where there’s really no campaigning, questionable whether there’ll be a convention. The news is so completely dominated by a single issue.
[24:01] Ron Klain: I mean, first of all, what I’d say is that I am obviously a partisan. I have strong political views. But I mean, you go back to what you said a second ago, Andy, I don’t think this really is about politics at one level. I mean, I think that President Obama was right about this, both in the case of the ACA and in the case of Ebola with me, that the best thing a president can do is do the right thing and solve problems and let the politics sort out. Indeed, I think one of the problems we’ve had here has been President Trump has tried to kind of politically bolster himself in a way that not only is bad for the response to Covid, but I think turns out to be bad politics for him, too. I think running around telling people in the spring that this wasn’t a problem. Don’t worry about it. I got it all under control. Not only slowed the response, which is horrible, but actually I think he’s paying a political price for that. Because people are seeing that it’s not true. You can’t tell people that this is all great and have people believe that because it isn’t all great. So, I mean, I think that the core view of leadership, that you solve problems and you kind of let the politics sort themselves out, is both better leadership and also better politics.
[25:17] Ron Klain: Look, I think in terms of the campaign, on the one hand, you’re absolutely right that a lot of things that we would normally associate with the presidential campaign in May, rallies and events and shaking hands and kissing babies and these things, are things that Vice President Biden can’t do because of this pandemic. And that obviously puts a crimp on his ability to do those things. On the other hand, what I would say is that in the end, it’s easy to forget that all of the trappings of it are about a choice, a choice that voters make in November. And the whole point of a campaign is to help inform voters about that choice. And I think what’s happening in this crisis is that voters are getting a lot of information about this choice from the events that are unfolding around them. They understand how Vice President Biden helped deal with problems like this in his eight years in the White House. And they see how President Trump is dealing with a problem like this. And they’re forming their views about that. They’re understanding who they want to be the person to start in January to dig us out of the holes we’re in, the economical hole and the health care hole, and to solve the problem. And so in a weird way, I think it matters a lot less that all the trappings of the campaign have been stripped away because the fundamental essence of what presidential politics are about, picking a leader, are getting driven home in incredibly sharp relief by the events unfolding all around us.
[26:48] Andy Slavitt: Would you assert that Joe Biden is a known quantity for the most part?
[26:52] Ron Klain: I think so. He was Vice President of the United States for eight years. He served in the U.S. Senate for decades before that. Certainly is a well-known name and a well-known figure. And I think that, again, I think that people know the choice. And frankly, even if you imagined a way, somehow you could put these candidates in a bubble or they could do all the normal campaign stuff in the middle of an epidemic, I don’t really know that waving signs and going to ice cream shops would really change how people perceive what the choice is between Joe Biden and Donald Trump to get us out of an economic depression and a health care crisis. I think that is set by these two men.
[27:34] Andy Slavitt: Sure. You make a really interesting point. I hadn’t thought about it. Like if it was Pete Buttigieg that was the Democratic nominee who still would have had things to prove and to demonstrate his ability to deal with global issues and to operate on a giant scale — and I’m not saying this to pick Pete Buttigieg, I like him — but I was just picking an example of someone who’s less known. Whereas if the feeling is that people with Joe Biden pretty much know what they’re getting, that he doesn’t have to introduce himself during this crisis. That’s going to change the calculus. And in some respects, it makes me wonder, do you even need debates? Do you need those sorts of things? Do you think we’ll have those sorts of things?
[28:17] Ron Klain: Well, I assume we’ll have debates. Certainly there are ways to do debates completely safely. Remember Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden had the last debate before the primaries ended with social distancing and no audience in the middle of March. So I think there’s really no reason why you couldn’t have Vice President Biden and President Trump in a studio, six feet apart. No audience. You could do all these things to make it safe, no matter what the state of the disease is. And I think we should have debates. I think people should hear from both these men about the choice that’s going on. I guess my point more is I think this is a serious campaign about serious issues. Some of the things that make campaigns fun, going to the state fairs, the great fun parts of campaigning we can’t do because of the epidemic. But again, I don’t think those colorful things are going to be as important to people as the serious choice between two different ways of dealing with this crisis. And I think, you know, those things, the ability to hear from candidates directly, the ability to have them debate. I think those things will get done, and people will have a really clear, really sharp, really well-defined choice when November comes.
[29:24] Andy Slavitt: And does the pandemic become the singular issue in the election?
[29:27] Ron Klain: You know, I think it is. I think if you include the health care side of it and the economic consequences, I think it does. I think some voters would be more focused on the health care issues, some voters to be more focused on the economic issues. But clearly, this is the number one problem we have in our country. It’s laying bare some of the existing problems that we had, issues that you certainly have been talking about for a long time, about the way the health care system treats people, about disparities in the healthcare system, all these things, they’re all coming to the surface. So whether or not you say the issue is the pandemic itself or the pandemic has made plain that our healthcare system isn’t adequate to deal with the needs of the American people, you know, it’s all kind of part of the whole same conversation now.
[30:13] Andy Slavitt: What about the reverse? How does the presence of the election change the way that the pandemic will be managed and dealt with by the White House?
[30:22] Ron Klain: Well, I don’t know. I mean, trying to guess how President Trump’s going to do this is a hard thing for me to do. I would have been wrong with all my guesses to date.
[30:31] Andy Slavitt: Let me give you some scenarios. Because we’re all just dealing with a lot of uncertainties. Let’s say this scenario is the attempts to push the economy open further, but the economy really doesn’t respond because, you know, consumers just aren’t comfortable spending. Businesses aren’t comfortable hiring. And, you know, it’s September or October, and we’re facing still continued steady stream of health issues. Economy hasn’t really come back. You know, then everything from schools to football season are starting and so forth. What do you see in a scenario like that?
[31:04] Ron Klain: Look, I think you don’t have to put on your future goggles to look at that scenario. We’re living that scenario right now in May. I mean, we are at a place where, outside of New York and New Jersey, this disease isn’t going down. In most parts of the country, it’s going up. And rather than further tightening restrictions, we’re actually loosening those restrictions. So, I mean, the idea that the scientists and the medical experts should be listened to on October, we first need to solve the problem that they’re not being listened to in May. And we’re on a trajectory to make this worse, not better. We’re on a trajectory to see cases go up, not down. Deaths go up, not down. And at the same time, people are busy getting their haircuts in Georgia. And so, you know, this is, I think, a challenge for the here and now before we get to a conversation about October.
[31:58] Andy Slavitt: Fair enough. Speaking of which, how’s your family doing? You hanging in there?
[32:03] Ron Klain: You’re nice to ask. Everyone in our family is healthy and doing well and safe. We’ve got everyone here at home. And it’s obviously a difficult time for everyone. But I feel very, very fortunate compared to a lot of other people.
[32:15] Andy Slavitt: Is there a particular nonprofit organization or local business that you want to call our attention to at this time? There’s so many people out there trying to do so many good things. One of the things that I know that people who listen to this podcast want to do is be engaged in the solution.
[32:32] Ron Klain: So my personal favorite, I appreciate the question, is World Central Kitchen, led by Chef José Andrés. I’ve been very fortunate to get to know him over the years, from a number of different contexts and scenarios, and I’ve been very active with World Central Kitchen. They’re right now busy feeding people in a number of cities in our country, getting 250,000 people a day. People kind of think that, you know, Chef José Andrés, he’s a chef, he’s a celebrity, those are all true. But he really has discovered a number of processes and ways of doing this that are exceptional. I mean, he outperformed FEMA in Puerto Rico. He’s outperformed major relief organizations in other places. It was his World Central Kitchen that fed people on the cruise ships in Japan that had the disease. He’s found a way to do it safely. He is a logistical genius and he is feeding, you know, more than a million people a week right now in this crisis. And I think if you go to WCK.org, you can find places there to donate to help communities, they’re looking for volunteers as well. It’s an amazing organization and it’s making a huge difference in this country right now.
[33:46] Andy Slavitt: So glad you called them out. Yeah. In addition to all that, he’s keeping hundreds and hundreds of restaurants in business by having them act to deliver food to people and to food banks. I talk to him pretty regularly and every time I got off the phone, I think, how could I be better? How can I like that guy? Because you’re unbelievable. That’s a great call-out. Ron, thanks so much for taking the time.
[34:10] Ron Klain: Really grateful to be a guest on your podcast. It’s a real honor. I appreciate it.
[34:16] Andy Slavitt: Thanks to Ron Klain for coming on the show. After I got through that interview, one of the things that occurred to me was am I leaving the impression that Ebola was successful because there was a Democrat as president and Ron Klain is a Democrat. And I don’t know if you believe that’s true or not, but I don’t want to leave that impression. I really do want to leave the impression that this is about competence and leadership and problem solving, something that we’ve talked about on the show and something that really does not have a partisan bent to it. So I decided to call a Republican healthcare policy leader, who was Mitt Romney’s health policy adviser when he ran for president. He’s a fellow at the Hoover Institution and is very prominent in Washington, D.C. And he also happens to be the board chair of El Camino Hospital, which is the first hospital in California where someone died from Covid -19. Also the hospital where my wife Lana was born. Fun fact. So I decided to give Lanhee a call and ask him some of the similar questions, because I think in an Republican administration, Lanhee is the kind of guy that I could picture being in charge. So here’s some of what Lanhee had to say. Lanhee, welcome to In the Bubble.
[35:33] Lanhee Chen: Thanks very much. The problem with pandemic response is that there are many different phases. There’s an acute phase and then there’s sort of the phase right after that, which is more of a pre-recovery phase. And arguably you ought to have different phases that have leadership centered in different places. So the National Academy of Science is one example of a place where you’re trying to garner and marshal the best scientific evidence about how to deal with a particular condition, a particular affliction. Then it becomes a question of how do you distribute necessary resources. So that’s when something like FEMA comes into effect, or even potentially other agencies of the federal government that have great reach into communities, which is really what we want. We want maybe those organizations then captaining the process as we move forward. What it all comes down to, in my mind, is you’ve got to have strong leadership from the very highest levels of the administration. Strong leadership from those who are the political leaders. And it’s a lot to ask of people who aren’t career officials. But at the end of the day, with our system of government, it is going to require political leadership to step up. I don’t care whether that leader is Democrat or Republican, it’s not a partisan comment. It is simply saying that at the end of the day, while I would love to see leadership that’s rooted in places where there’s technical expertise, and I do think they need to be able to provide guidance, and public leaders need to be willing to listen to that guidance. At the end of the day, we expect our elected officials at every level of government to provide effective guidance during crises like this. And we’ve got to hold them accountable for that.
[37:08] Andy Slavitt: Great. Hearing from both Ron and Lanhee I think gives us all hopefully some perspective and some confidence that while these problems seem really harrowing while you’re in the middle of them, eventually we start to see our way through them and really smart, competent people to help us figure them out. And it really isn’t about partisanship. Before we get to next week, I do have one question that I’d love to hear from all of you on. You can use my at @ASlavitt Twitter or my @AndySlavitt on Instagram. And that’s a question of should we have my mom back on the show, or when should we have my mom back on the show? She was on our first episode with Mark Cuban, for those of you who didn’t hear. She launched a pretty spectacular program called #TheBestofUs, which you should definitely check out and contribute to on Twitter, around amazing things that people are doing. And I want to know if we can make her our first repeat guest. So let me know what you think. If it’s too soon, you can just say love her, but too soon. She’ll understand.
[38:10] Andy Slavitt: Appreciate you listening to the show this week. We have a couple of really amazing ones coming up next week, and I hope everyone has a great week.
[38:19] Andy Slavitt: In the Bubble is a production of Lemonada Media. Niccole Galteland is our producer and Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. Zach Slavtii is our co-producer and my co-host. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me on social media at @ASlavitt on Twitter, @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends, but tell them at a distance. For now, stay safe. Share some joy. We’ll get through this together. And #StayHome.