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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

14 mins ago - Health

Pfizer testing oral pill for prevention of COVID

Photo: Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer announced Monday that it is testing an oral antiviral drug that would help prevent COVID-19.

Why it matters: This drug is one of several antiviral pills that could have a massive impact on coronavirus treatment since not everyone will get a vaccine, and it may take years to fully vaccinate people in certain countries, per Axios' Alison Snyder.

Scoop: Dems' sneaky sabotage

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A group tied to prominent Democratic strategists is posing as a conservative outfit to try to drive a wedge between the Republican candidate for Virginia governor and his core voters, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The state's gubernatorial race is expected to be tight and could be a national bellwether. As Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin's campaign hypes improving poll numbers, Democrats are trying to chip away at his support in GOP strongholds.

House coalescing around infrastructure deal

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is seen leaving a meeting of the House Democratic caucus on Monday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

House Democrats started Monday to coalesce around a deal to pass President Biden's signature Build Back Better infrastructure package, with progressive opposition weakening and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seeming to de-link the biggest components of it.

What they're saying: “We can’t be ready to say, 'Until the Senate passes the [$3.5 trillion reconciliation] bill, we can’t do BIF,'" the speaker told House Democrats, using shorthand for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. She indicated the House would vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill — focused on roads and bridges — on Thursday.