Before the 2020 election, Donald Trump made repeated claims that President Joe Biden performed poorly when handling the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak in 2009 and 2010, when Biden was the vice president. Despite Trump’s swine flu attack on Biden, however, the Democrat’s presidential nominee was not in charge of the Obama administration’s handling of the H1N1 outbreak.
The majority of responsibility when it came to the H1N1 outbreak fell to leaders of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and the CDC, according to PolitiFact. Trump may be mistaking his own administration’s approach—which placed Vice President Mike Pence at the forefront of the coronavirus task force—for Obama’s H1N1 response.
Trump hinged many of his accusations regarding Biden’s swine flu response on remarks from former Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain in May 2019. A viral video shows Klain noting that the Obama administration did “every possible thing wrong” when handling the outbreak. These remarks are taken out of context, however, and fail to provide a full picture of what Klain was referencing.
In the full remarks, Klain explained that this failure was primarily in connection to a vaccine. The U.S. government’s approach in 2009-2010 led to a shortage of available vaccines and the late arrival of those vaccines that could be distributed. But the virus was milder than anticipated—leading to less pressure than expected for hospitals—and the vaccine was more effective than initially predicted.
“The point I was trying to make was about an overreliance on vaccines as a single strategy for coping with pandemics,” Klain told The Fact Checker via email. “That was not in fact what happened on H1N1 but there had been a lot of chatter at the conference I was attending about vaccines as the dominant strategy.”
Before the presidential election, Klain was even blunter, writing on Twitter, “If Donald Trump really cares about what I think, here you go: No President has bungled anything, ever, as badly as Trump has bungled COVID. Period.” Klain has since been named as Biden’s incoming White House chief of staff.
Trump nevertheless leaned into Klain’s remarks as a condemnation of the Obama administration’s response to the swine flu outbreak. Biden has, as noted by PolitiFact, claimed responsibility on his campaign site for successfully conquering the swine flu. His site notes that he “helped lead” the Obama administration’s response to the outbreak.
But Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 410,000 Americans and infected more than 25 million, has been widely criticized. Between 2009 and 2010, the swine flu killed an estimated 12,000 Americans. By criticizing Biden’s swine flu response, Trump is likely aiming to shift the conversation away from COVID-19 deaths.
By Thanksgiving, Trump just wanted to make sure Biden didn’t get credit for the upcoming coronavirus vaccines. “Joe Biden failed with the swine flu, H1N1, totally failed with the swine flu,” Trump said on Nov. 26. “Don’t let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before and we got that approved and through and nobody’s ever seen anything like it.”
Yet, Biden’s incoming administration has plenty of ideas on how to improve the U.S.’s response to the pandemic, including delivering 100 million vaccines in the first 100 days of his presidency. Still, the Biden administration has blamed the Trump administration for a lack of information, including not even knowing how many vaccines had been created.