Transcript | Sec. Esper on Fox News
20 March 2020
STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Let's bring in Mark Esper. He is the Defense Secretary for the United States of America. He joins us right now from the Pentagon.
Sir, good morning to you.
AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Good morning.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER: Good morning to all of you.
DOOCY: Mr. Secretary, tell us about the state of this particular crisis right now and how Guardsmen are being activated.
ESPER: Well, look obviously we are in a -- a national crisis with regard to COVID-19. I'm confident at the end we will all be OK, we will get through this.
But DOD has been busily supporting the inter-agency whole-of-government effort that's been ongoing now for several weeks. We are contributing to this effort by adding manpower, medical equipment, supplies, our own researchers who are pursuing vaccines and therapeutics, the Army Corps of Engineers and, as you mentioned, the National Guard. And we now have over 4,000 Guardsmen in 31 states deployed helping governors and the -- and the people of those states.
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Right.
DOOCY: Are they properly protected with enough gloves and masks and things like that?
ESPER: They are. We provided all the -- what we call personal protective equipment to do that. And at the same time we've offered up to HHS up to 5 million respirators. We've offered gowns and gloves and all those things. We've offered nearly 2,000 of our deployable ventilators. All the equipment that we can put forward from our strategic stockpile to help out in this crisis (inaudible).
DOOCY: Have they taken you up on it?
ESPER: They have. We've had a very good interagency team effort. The president has demonstrated excellent, bold leadership in this -- in this crisis and the whole team is pulling together, working closely with the governors of the states to make sure that we support the American people.
EARHARDT: Mr. Secretary, I have a friend that works at the V.A. and she says the telemedicine will be wonderful, because then they can chat via Skype and the patients won't have to come in because they're worried about infecting one another. And she says it's really tough getting through that red tape. It's going to take a long time to get approval because you're dealing with medical records
What -- what do you have to say to those V.A. workers and those -- our veterans that would love to have this?
ESPER: Yeah, telemedicine's a great way to go. We've been experimenting with it for some time now, particularly when you think about forward-deployed troops who don't have access to a surgeon or to other type of specialty care. And so, it's something we've been developing.
We are working closely with the V.A. on a number of different issues like that. I've known Secretary Wilkie well for many years. He's doing a great job. But that's just an example of a -- a technology that we need to continue to develop and accelerate so we can stay ahead of this crisis.
Mr. Secretary, I think it was last week that the Pentagon ordered no domestic travel for personnel, which, of course, delays all permanent change of stations and things like that. What else have you discovered since that order has gone out?
ESPER: Well, several weeks ago we implemented our pandemic response plans, giving authority to the commanders in the services at all levels to do what was necessary.
Across the board for DOD, we did stop all movement between the United States and aboard, and then a couple of days later within the United States trying to at the time contain the virus and we were largely successful. And now we're doing everything we can to mitigate the virus.
And so, even at the Pentagon we're practicing things like social distancing. We're wiping down doorknobs and tabletops multiple times a day. I actually do video teleconferences with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and we're propagating those ideas throughout DOD.
And we've been pushing very hard the president's call for all Americans and DOD as well to pursue the 15-day plan by which we -- we try and not gather in groups more than 10 people, we self-isolate, self-quarantine; all those things that we can do to break the spread of this virus.
KILMEADE: So as it turns out, you guys are in the middle of a storm with China. We definitely think that it's a military enemy that you guys will plot and plan against, should that ever happen.
But they also blame you. China is blaming the coronavirus -- get this -- on an American -- it's an American disease that was introduced to the country by the U.S. Army, members who visited the Wuhan province in October. Did you really start this disease and give to China?
ESPER: No. That-- that's completely absurd.
You know, look, if the Chinese government had been more transparent early on -- and we're talking late fall, December at least -- we would all -- all of us, all the nations in the world would have been able to get our arms around this and contain it in China where it began and prevent its propagation around the world.
And in fact, in January or February, I think I called my counterpart, the Chinese defense minister, and offered up the United States' assistance to them, whether with regard to understanding the virus and researching and supplies and what not.
But to have somebody like that from the Chinese government come out and make a statement like that's completely ridiculous and it's irresponsible, and it doesn't get us to where we need to be.
At this point, we all need to be working together. We need to be very transparent. We need to be sharing information on vaccines and therapeutics and do everything we can to get this virus under control quickly and get back to normal.
EARHARDT: So the very U.S. Army members that they were blaming -- they said spread the virus, they were sent over to go and help?
ESPER: Well, I -- I offered U.S. military assistance, U.S. government assistance to the Chinese government.
DOOCY: Also, I understand, you know, the State Department, Mr. Secretary, is telling Americans either to come home right now or just to shelter in place. But -- and so, it's making -- it's making getting test swabs from Italy to the United States for testing more complicated. I understand according to Peter Navarro that apparently the United States is going to be receiving a million nasal swabs and the U.S. Air Force is going to be involved in this particular mission, right?
ESPER: Yes. We've already been involved in that mission. We -- last weekend, we moved over a half million test kits from Italy to the United States for further redistribution. We have another mission planned.
Again, it's what we do to help support the interagency effort and to help protect the American people. And we will continue to support those efforts or as we bring Americans back home, support housing them on our bases for the self-quarantine. You may or may not know, we currently have about 1,500 Americans on four of our bases around the United States, again, trying to help take the load off the civilian infrastructure.
KILMEADE: Wow, that's tremendous.
But meanwhile, the Defense Department was brought up yesterday by Mayor De Blasio. He is calling on the military to be deployed. He wants the president to deploy the military to help build hospitals in New York. Last night, there was a spike of 67 percent in New York City, which has the most cases. Have you gotten that call? And if you did, what would you do?
ESPER: Well, I've spoken to many governors, to include Governor Cuomo. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to Mayor De Blasio. What I said to Governor Cuomo is we're willing to offer whatever we can to assist.
The president's already committed the -- the hospital ship Comfort to be in New York. We get -- we've alerted her. She's going to be getting underway just after the end of this month, in early April.
I've also spoke to the governor about offering up the Army Corps of Engineers. The head of the Army Corps was up there just three days ago, had a very good working session with the governor. What we plan on doing is working closely with them as they identify sites, such as college dorms or hotels -- the Army Corps of Engineers will go in, contract, renovate and then turn them back over to the state. Because this is all about freeing up bed space for either patients who are identified as having coronavirus or are on the backend recovering from coronavirus, so we plan on doing that.
At the same time I spoke to both the governors of Washington state and California. We hope to deploy -- aim to deploy the Mercy early -- early next week and get her underway to one of those two states to help out as well.
KILMEADE: Yeah, he wants it in Los Angeles.
But, Mr. Secretary, what's stopping you from doing it? Do they not think it's needed yet? Are you not sure about the plans yet? It seems like you guys -- you guys are all ready to do it but no one's doing it.
ESPER: No, there's nothing stopping us. We put units on alert that are preparing, Army units with regard to the field hospitals. So they are assembling and preparing to pack up.
The big challenge we have, of course, I've mentioned this before, is that doctors and nurses, the medical professionals that we use to staff up these hospitals, the majority of which will come from probably the Reserves. So we're being very careful, cautious to make sure that as we call up reservists from -- to work in these units, we don't pull them out of civilian hospitals and rob Peter to pay Paul, if you will.
EARHARDT: Right. Right.
Mr. Secretary, how is this affecting our operations overseas in Middle East?
ESPER: Well, mission number one for the United States military remains ensuring that the American people, the country and our interests abroad are protected, and I can assure the American people that we are well on top of that.
Otherwise, the practices we have instituted with regard to quarantining of folks going in a country, out of country are still underway. We do that to protect the force.
I've been very clear with my commanders, with our leaders that priority number one is to protect our troops and their families. Priority number two is to ensure our national military capabilities are intact. And then number three is to make sure we are fully supporting the whole-of-government approach that's being led by the president.
DOOCY: Well, I know you've...
KILMEADE: But there are some positive tests on ships though, correct?
ESPER: We've had to date 67 positive tests of servicemembers. They've been quarantined and taken care of. I've spoke to several of them on the phone; they're all doing well. They're all doing well. And we're blessed with having a young, fit population who I think will fare well throughout this -- throughout this virus.
DOOCY: All right.
We know you've got your hands full with a lot going on. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, sir, thank you very much for joining us today from the Pentagon.
EARHARDT: Thank you so much.
ESPER: Thank you, all.
EARHARDT: You're welcome.
ESPER: Thank you.