Trump Administrator. Agency muzzled for months as COVID spreads

  • Robert Redfield lamented how the CDC was sidelined under the Trump administration.
  • Excerpts from Redfield’s private testimony were first published on Friday.
  • Redfield confirms that comments from a CDC official in February 2020 resulted in increased pressure on the agency.

Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield told Congress the Trump administration effectively muzzled the health agency after a senior official made comments about the then-emerging pandemic that spooked the White House.

“I’ve said this publicly before, it’s one of my big disappointments. That HHS basically took over the CDC’s full clearance of the briefings,” Redfield told the House panel on the matter. to investigate the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

Excerpts from Redfield’s testimony were first published Friday and were first reported by The Washington Post.

Redfield’s testimony, as he himself referred to, underscores the CDC’s very conspicuous absence during key moments in the Trump administration’s COVID-19 response. As Redfield told lawmakers, it came after the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Nancy Messonnier, alerted Americans to the possibility on February 25, 2020, that the pandemic could to be “serious”.

Messonnier, of course, was right. The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly a million Americans. But at the time, his comments contradicted public views in the White House and his concern sent the stock market plummeting. In response, Redfield said the CDC could not get approval from the Department of Health and Human Services to hold its own press briefings.

“So from where I was, the ability to make those decisions internally at CDC was no longer CDC decisions, whereas I would say the authorization process before Nancy Messonnier was more superficial, all that that we put in place was cleared in. And I guess we still had to be cleared in, but I don’t remember ever being cleared in before I – for a while none of our briefings were approved,” Redfield said.

As an example of other political interference, the House committee pointed to internal White House emails that detail private debate about how the CDC should advise churches and houses of worship during the pandemic.

“I have proposed several passages to be deleted,” Paul Ray, then administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote in a May 2020 email in response to the CDC’s draft guidelines that recommended virtual or drive-in options for religious. services. Ray said the suggestions “raise religious freedom concerns” and that the CDC should only release its advice after “removing the offensive passages.”

In a statement to the Post, Ray defended his actions.

“Each religious tradition – not the federal government – ​​is best placed to understand the requirements of its own beliefs and therefore to choose, among the many effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus, those that best correspond to its beliefs,” Ray wrote. “The proposed changes to this document have been designed to keep Americans safe while respecting their right to worship as they believe they should.”

Democratic Rep. James Clyburn, who chairs the select subcommittee on coronaviruses, said his panel “continues to uncover disturbing new details about how the Trump administration’s pandemic response has prioritized the politics rather than public health”.

“As today’s new evidence also makes clear, Trump White House officials worked under the former president to deliberately undermine the recommendations of public health officials and muzzle their ability to communicate. clearly with the American public,” Clyburn said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Rep. Steve Scalise, who is the top Republican on the committee, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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