Obama Says Trump Administration Officials 'Aren't Even Pretending To Be in Charge' of Pandemic Response

Former President Barack Obama delivered a virtual commencement speech Saturday for about 27,000 total students from 78 historically black colleges and universities in what was called "Show Me Your Walk H.B.C.U. Edition."

With students having to finish the school year through distance learning because of COVID-19, Obama used the moment to say the Trump administration isn't "even pretending to be in charge" in handling the pandemic.

"More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing," Obama said during the online speech. "A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge."

The White House responded to Obama's graduation comments by laying out what Trump has done since the virus first threatened the shores of America, through replenishing stockpiles and making economic stimulus payments to Americans.

"President Trump's unprecedented coronavirus response has saved lives," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Newsweek on Saturday. "His early travel restrictions and quarantines protected the American public while his Paycheck Protection Program and direct payments to Americans got needed economic relief to our country.

"Moreover, President Trump directed the greatest mobilization of the private sector since World War II to fill the stockpile left depleted by his predecessor. As we look to the future, we have the President who ushered in the hottest economy in modern history ready to do it a second time," McEnany continued.

Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to students and attenders after receiving an honorary doctorate of laws during the 250th anniversary commencement ceremony at Rutgers University on May 15, 2016 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Obama is the first sitting president to speak at the school's commencement. Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Last week during a private call with thousands of supporters, Obama said Trump's response to the COVID-19 crisis was "anemic and spotty," and he spent more time in that call attacking the White House for its support of the Justice Department's attempt to drop charges against Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI.

Additionally in Saturday's commencement address, Obama told the mostly black audience that the COVID-19 pandemic especially targeted minority communities, and that it will be up to them to change the outlook for their communities.

"These aren't normal times. You're being asked to find your way in a world in the middle of a devastating pandemic and a terrible recession," Obama said. "And let's be honest—a disease like this just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country."

"If the world's going to get better, it's going to be up to you. With everything suddenly feeling like it's up for grabs, this is your time to seize the initiative," Obama continued. "Nobody can tell you anymore that you should be waiting your turn. Nobody can tell you anymore "this is how it's always been done." More than ever, this is your moment—your generation's world to shape."

Obama also touched inequalities of the black community during his speech, even bringing up the story of Ahmaud Arbery, the black man shot dead while jogging in Georgia nearly three months ago.

"We see it in the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our communities, just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn't submit to their questioning," Obama said.

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. It soon spread around the globe to affect more than 4.7 million people, with more than 300,000 worldwide deaths as of May 16.

The spread of this virus led to all schools and universities in the United States shutting down and holding classes online. It has led to massive unemployment, the shutdown of sports in America and the closing of most non-essential businesses.

However, the spread of the virus has slowed in most parts of the country, and many states have begun to reopen in phases, from parts of California, most of Texas and Florida and even the east coast beaches in time for Memorial Day.

Obama will deliver another virtual commencement speech Saturday at 8 p.m. ET for high school students in an event called "Graduate Together." It will be televised in a one-hour primetime special on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, and it will also be available for online streaming.