Things didn’t go well for Donald Trump’s first choice to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald was ousted in January following a handful of embarrassing controversies, including reports that she bought shares in a tobacco company – after she became CDC director.
Yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced her successor: Dr. Robert Redfield, a prominent AIDS researcher, is the new head of the CDC. At first blush, Redfield at least has the kind of background one might expect for this position – he’s a longtime virologist and physician – and unlike so many other Trump appointees, Redfield wants the agency he’ll lead to exist.
But this choice is not without critics. NBC News reported that Redfield has been accused of overseeing “shoddy HIV research.” Former Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Hendrix, a doctor who is now director of the division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins, worked with Redfield at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and told NBC, “Either he was egregiously sloppy with data or it was fabricated. It was somewhere on that spectrum, both of which were serious and raised questions about his trustworthiness.”
BuzzFeed’s report went a little further.
Redfield has also been criticized for his discriminatory views on HIV testing. During the 1980s, while serving as chief Army AIDS researcher, Redfield was instrumental in implementing controversial HIV testing policies – including a mandatory HIV screening program at the Department of Defense that barred recruits who tested positive for HIV from military service. He later supported segregating HIV-positive members of the military, a practice that the Department of Defense Inspector General later found violated Army regulations.
“This pattern of ethically and morally questionable behavior leads me to seriously question whether Dr. Redfield is qualified to be the federal government’s chief advocate and spokesperson for public health,” [Democratic Sen. Patty Murray] said.
In fairness, the concerns are not universal. The Washington Post reported that Maryland Democrats praised Redfield’s selection. Rep. Elijah Cummings called him a “deeply experienced and compassionate public health physician.” And former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who sits on the virology institute’s advisory board, said, “It’s terrific to have someone who has been such a caring doctor, who has really treated patients and knows what they’re going through.”
His qualifications and background will not, however, be explored in detail during confirmation hearings – because the head of the CDC is a presidential appointment. Lawmakers have no say in the process.