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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

CPAC Republicans choose conservatism over constituents

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CPAC proved such a draw, conservative Republicans chose the conference over their constituents.

Why it matters: More than a dozen House Republicans voted by proxy on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in Washington so they could speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. And Sen. Ted Cruz skipped an Air Force One flight as President Biden flew to Cruz's hometown of Houston to survey storm damage.

Border Democrat warns Biden about immigrant fallout

Henry Cuellar (right). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

A Democratic lawmaker representing a border district warned the Biden administration against easing up too much on unauthorized immigrants, citing their impact on his constituents, local hospitals and their potential to spread the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Axios he supports President Biden. But the moderate said he sees the downsides of efforts to placate pro-immigrant groups, an effort that threatens to blow up on the administration.

In CPAC speech, Trump says he won't start a 3rd party

Trump at CPAC on Feb. 28 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Courtesy of C-SPAN.

In his first public speech since leaving office, former President Trump told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he would not start a third party because "we have the Republican party."

Why it matters: The former president aims to cement himself as Republicans' "presumptive 2024 nominee" as his top contenders — including former members of his administration — face the challenge of running against the GOP's most popular politician.