In public and in private, the CDC faces unusual political pressure

In public, the White House is putting unprecedented political pressure on the CDC. In private, it may be even worse.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce first Ebola case diagnosed in the USA.
The entrance to the main campus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., on Sept. 30.JOHN AMIS / EPA
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By Steve Benen

It was a problem in March when Trump administration officials, as the coronavirus crisis started to spread, endorsed cutting funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was a bigger problem in May when the White House sidelined the CDC and disregarded its recommendations.

But the conflict appears to have reached new and bizarre levels as the pandemic has intensified.

This week, for example, Donald Trump publicly lambasted his own administration's public-health experts, complaining that the CDC's school re-opening guidelines are, among other things, too "tough."

USA Today reported overnight that public-health leaders "who worked at the CDC under prior presidents said they had never seen anything like this week’s open discord."

But as unsettling as it is to see "open discord" between the CDC and the White House in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the private conflicts may be just as serious, if not more so. The Washington Post reported:

The June 28 email to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was ominous: A senior adviser to a top Health and Human Services Department official accused the CDC of “undermining the President” by putting out a report about the potential risks of the coronavirus to pregnant women. The adviser, Paul Alexander, criticized the agency’s methods and said its warning to pregnant women “reads in a way to frighten women . . . as if the President and his administration can’t fix this and it is getting worse.”

This is, of course, ridiculous on a variety of fronts. If it "undermines the president" when government agencies provide the public with accurate and reliable information, then maybe there's something wrong with the president, not the agencies.

For that matter, the Trump administration can't fix this and it is getting worse.

But it's also important to acknowledge that this is how governing works in the Trump era: public officials face pressure to hide important truths that the president finds politically inconvenient.

The Post spoke to one insider who said, “There is a view the CDC is staffed with ‘deep state’ Democrats that are trying to tweak the administration." Another added Trump believes the CDC is, among other things, a “waste of time."

It wasn't long ago when the CDC was recognized as a world-renowned leader. Then the 2016 election happened.