CDC chief rejects Trump talk connecting virus, border wall

CDC Director Robert Redfield was asked whether "structural barriers" at the borders would help with the coronavirus. He had the audacity to tell the truth.
Border Wall
Construction is seen on the secondary fence that separates the United States and Mexico in the San Diego Sector on Aug. 22, 2019 in San Diego, Calif.Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

At a campaign rally in South Carolina two weeks ago, Donald Trump seemed aware of growing public anxieties surrounding the coronavirus, and he seemed eager to exploit those concerns to advance his agenda.

"[B]order security is also health security," the president declared. "And you've all seen the wall has gone up like magic.... One of the reasons the numbers are so good. We will do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country. We have no choice. Whether it's the virus that we're talking about or many other public health threats.... You see it with the coronavirus. You know, you see that. When you have this virus or any other virus or any other problem coming in, it's not the only thing that comes in through the border."

In a tweet yesterday, the Republican wrote that barriers along the U.S./Mexico border are "going up fast." In apparent reference to the coronavirus, Trump added, "We need the Wall more than ever!"

Even by his standards, this was ridiculous. The idea that COVID-19 is coming into the country "through the border" is the opposite of reality: compared to the United States, Mexico has a tiny number of confirmed cases .

Complicating matters, even members of Trump's team have no use for his rhetoric. Politico reported yesterday afternoon:

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday he was unaware of any indication from his agency that physical barriers along America's borders would help halt the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. -- contradicting an assertion President Donald Trump made earlier in the day.

At a House hearing, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) specifically asked whether, from the CDC's perspective, "structural barriers" at the borders "would be of any use in mitigating" the growing outbreak.

Redfield replied, "Not that I've seen."

I suppose the obvious joke here is that Redfield will soon be fired for having the audacity to tell the truth, but under the circumstances, that's not altogether funny. It's likely the CDC chief hadn't seen Trump's tweet and simply answered the question honestly, unaware of the political considerations.

But given everything we know about how Team Trump operates, it's hard not to wonder about the possible fallout. Will Redfield find himself on a presidential enemies list? Will the CDC be forced to issue some kind of humiliating press release today, denouncing Redfield's answer?