It's not just Fauci: Trump is now blasting Birx, too

Dr. Birx said the pandemic has entered "a new phase." Evidently, Trump saw this acknowledgement of reality as an example of "hitting" the administration.
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
By Steve Benen

In recent days, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed her dissatisfaction with Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force. According to Politico, the Democratic leader had unkind words for Birx during closed-door negotiations last week, but Pelosi has since taken her concerns public.

The Californian told ABC News' Martha Raddatz yesterday that she lacks confidence in the task force's coordinator, and this morning, Pelosi added on CNN, "I don't have confidence in anyone who stands there while the president says, 'Swallow Lysol and it's going to cure your virus.' ... There has to be some responsibility. So if the president is saying these things, who is advising him that this is OK and enabling that to happen while millions of people have died?"

The initial response from the White House was to defend Birx from the criticisms. White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah wrote on Twitter, "It is deeply irresponsible of Speaker Pelosi to repeatedly try to undermine [and] create public distrust in Dr Birx, the top public health professional on the coronavirus task force. It's also just wrong. Period."

Deputy White House Press Secretary Judd Deere added, "Dr. Birx is one of the smartest, honest, most talented professionals I've ever worked with. The baseless, political attacks against her and her long record of saving lives and protecting public health are disgusting and shameful."

The pushback was curious, in large part because of Donald Trump's related offensive against Dr. Anthony Fauci, about which Farah and Deere have said little. But this morning, the White House line start looking a little worse.

President Donald Trump on Monday slammed White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx after the public health official said the pandemic was "extraordinarily widespread." Trump's attack comes shortly after top White House officials admonished House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for undermining trust in Birx.

"So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics," the president tweeted. "In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait [and] hit us. Pathetic!"

It wasn't altogether clear what it was Birx said that angered Trump, though the doctor told CNN yesterday, in reference to the coronavirus pandemic, "I want to be very clear, what we're seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread." She added that the United States has entered "a new phase."

Evidently, this isn't what the president wanted to hear -- in part because the truth is politically inconvenient, and in part because Trump perceived Birx's acknowledgement of reality as an example of "hitting" the administration.

And as ridiculous as the presidential shot was, so too are the absurd circumstances inside the West Wing. I don't seriously expect Alyssa Farah and Judd Deere to defend Birx against Trump's latest online tantrum, but it's nevertheless hard not to marvel at the White House dysfunction.

Several months into this public-health crisis, the confused president lashed out on Saturday at the nation's leading epidemiologist -- a member of Trump's own team -- only to follow it up on Monday by blasting the coordinator of his own White House's coronavirus task force.

Who exactly is going to have confidence in the competence of this operation?