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Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Top Trump administration officials had been developing a plan to give cloth masks to huge numbers of Americans, but the idea lost traction amid heavy internal skepticism.

The big picture: The scale of this undertaking would have been extraordinary, mobilizing an enormous public-private partnership to deliver protective cloth masks to millions of people — in one iteration of the idea, maybe even to every American.

Details: Administration officials had considered a partnership in which Hanes and Fruit of the Loom manufactured millions of cloth face masks and the U.S. Postal Service would have helped deliver them.

  • Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, was the key driver of the idea and had vocal support from deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger.
  • The idea came up a few weekends ago during a coronavirus task force meeting in the Situation Room while Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was briefing the team on Hanes' decision to start making cotton masks. 

Kadlec seized upon and later expanded the concept, arguing for a partnership among Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and the Postal Service. He wanted to publicly announce the proposal in conjunction with the then-upcoming federal guidance encouraging people to wear masks.

  • "If CDC is going to recommend face coverings, the government should at least provide them for its citizens," a former senior HHS official familiar with the discussion said.

Where it stands: Hanes has already announced that it's retooling its factories to make masks for health care workers to help alleviate shortages. But Kadlec's idea for a bigger partnership has been tabled.

  • "It's passed from different entities at the White House and has been a dying a slow death," said one source familiar with the situation.

Several senior officials opposed the idea, questioning its practicality.

  • "It's not clear they have thought through the costs, the logistics of how this would work, or whether this is a wise idea in the first place," one senior official said.

What they're saying: "Making these masks and getting them out is not complicated. If government leaders think this is too hard, how can we trust them to safely reopen our economy?" the former senior HHS official said.

Go deeper

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.