Before he went on a racist conspiracy theory rant on Facebook Live, prompting a "medical leave-of-absence," Health and Human Services assistant secretary Michael Caputo hatched a scheme to save Christmas (and, presumably, the Trump administration by extension).
Speaking with the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas and other mall Santa labor unions, Caputo had planned to provide early coronavirus vaccine access to Santas in 35 countries, as part of a $250 million public service campaign to celebrate the Trump administration's role in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal got access to some audio:
The coronavirus ad effort—titled "Covid 19 Public Health and Reopening America Public Service Announcements and Advertising Campaign"—was intended to "defeat despair, inspire hope and achieve national recovery," according to a work statement reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. It was to include television, radio, online and podcast announcements, starting immediately.
In a 12-minute phone call in late August, Mr. Caputo told Mr. Erwin of the Santa group that vaccines would likely be approved by mid-November and distributed to front-line workers before Thanksgiving.
"If you and your colleagues are not essential workers, I don't know what is," Mr. Caputo said on the call, which was recorded by Mr. Erwin and provided to the Journal. "I cannot wait to tell the president," Mr. Caputo said at another point about the plan. "He's going to love this."
Mr. Erwin said on the call: "Since you would be doing Santa a serious favor, Santa would definitely reciprocate."
Mr. Caputo said: "I'm in, Santa, if you're in."
The Journal also notes that, "Those who perform as Mrs. Claus and elves also would have been included."
As of Friday, however, the Department of Health and Human Services has acknowledged that the campaign is "under review" and will likely be scrapped.
The Santa "collaboration will not be happening," and HHS Secretary Alex Azar had no knowledge of Mr. Caputo's outreach discussions, an HHS spokesman said. Mr. Caputo didn't respond to requests for comment.
Ric Erwin, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, called the news "extremely disappointing," adding: "This was our greatest hope for Christmas 2020, and now it looks like it won't happen."
It's not clear what will happen with the $250 million in taxpayer dollars that were earmarked for the Santas, but it likely won't be spent on a real Christmas miracle like not letting 250,000 Americans die out of lazy greed and negligence.
Health Agency Halts Coronavirus Ad Campaign, Leaving Santa Claus in the Cold [Julie Wernau, James V. Grimaldi and Stephanie Armour / Wall Street Journal]
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