Fauci isn't alone: Birx pleads for 'aggressive action' on COVID

Dr. Anthony Fauci is already persona non grata in the Oval Office. It means Dr. Deborah Birx is taking a risk by telling inconvenient truths.
Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx in the James Brady Press Briefing Room on April 9, 2020.
Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx in the James Brady Press Briefing Room on April 9, 2020.Andrew Harnik / AP

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has earned a reputation for being measured, but the nation's preeminent infectious-disease expert has recently become more candid in his concerns about our pandemic preparedness.

"We're in for a whole lot of hurt," Fauci told the Washington Post late last week. "It's not a good situation.... You could not possibly be positioned more poorly."

Soon after, the White House publicly chastised the immunologist, and Donald Trump expressed an eagerness to fire him after the election.

Given the reaction to Fauci's candor, it's tempting to think others in positions of authority and expertise would keep their heads down, fearing similar blowback. To her credit, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, did the opposite yesterday, pleading with the administration to take "much more aggressive action" to respond to the crisis.

"This is not about lockdowns," she wrote in a memo dated yesterday. "It hasn't been about lockdowns since March or April. It's about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented."

As the Washington Post reported overnight, Birx left little doubt that she sees Donald Trump's positions as plainly wrong.

Birx's internal report, shared with top White House and agency officials, contradicts Trump on numerous points: While the president holds large campaign events with hundreds of attendees, most without masks, she explicitly warns against them. While the president blames rising cases on more testing, she says testing is "flat or declining" in many areas where cases are rising. And while Trump says the country is "rounding the turn," Birx notes the country is entering its most dangerous period yet and will see more than 100,000 new cases a day this week.

At face value, Birx's document may seem obvious. She is, after all, responsible for coordinating the White House's response to the coronavirus pandemic. As the crisis intensifies, case totals climb, hospitals fill, and fatalities increase, it stands to reason that Birx, Fauci, and other credible voices on the White House Coronavirus Taskforce would step up and speak out, demanding more.

But therein lies the rub: Donald Trump does not care what his own taskforce has to say. In fact, in recent months, the president has appeared actively opposed to its assessments, recommendations, and conclusions. For all intents and purposes, the group's existence has grown almost superfluous: Trump listens to conservative media and the radiologist he added to his team because he saw him on Fox News.

Fauci, who's worked closely with leaders from both parties for decades, has become persona non grata in the Oval Office, and even Birx has drawn the Republican incumbent's ire for telling the public truths the president didn't like. If Trump wins a second term, it's hardly outlandish to wonder whether she, too, will be shown the door.