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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

Home confinees face imminent return to prison

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Thousands of prisoners who've been in home confinement for as long as a year because of the pandemic face returning to prison when it's over — unless President Biden rescinds a last-minute Trump Justice Department memo.

Why it matters: Most prisoners were told they would not have to come back as they were released early with ankle bracelets. Now, their lives are on hold while they wait to see whether or when they may be forced back behind bars. Advocates say about 4,500 people are affected.

The "essential" committee that still doesn't exist

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Nearly five months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the creation of the bipartisan Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, it's not been formed much less met.

Why it matters: Select committees are designed to address urgent matters, but the 117th Congress is now nearly one-quarter complete without this panel assembling. When she announced this committee, Pelosi described it as an "essential force" to "combat the crisis of income and wealth disparity in America."

Biden's ethics end-around for labor

President Biden surveys a water treatment plant during a visit to New Orleans today. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is excusing top officials from ethics rules that would otherwise restrict their work with large labor unions that previously employed them, federal records show.

Why it matters: Labor's sizable personnel presence in the administration is driving policy, and the president's appointment of top union officials to senior posts gives those unions powerful voices in the federal bureaucracy — even at the cost of strictly adhering to his own stringent ethics standards.