Team Trump ignores, stifles experts who don't toe the party line

Kayleigh McEnany boasted this week, "As you are well aware, President Trump has consistently sided with the experts." I wish that were true. It's not.
Image: President Donald Trump tours the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia
President Donald Trump delivers remarks beside HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control, CDC Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Associate Director for Laboratory Science and Safety Steve Monroe during a tour of the Center for Disease Control following a COVID-19 coronavirus briefing in Atlanta, Georgia on March 6, 2020.Tom Brenner / Reuters file
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By Steve Benen

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently crafted detailed guidelines, created by the nation's top disease investigators, on how best to responsibly reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. The recommendations were specifically tailored to different parts of American society, and they were poised to play a foundational role for the public and private sectors.

But that did not happen. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the step-by-step recommendations were "shelved" by the administration. NBC News reported soon after that it was specifically Donald Trump's White House that blocked the materials from reaching the public.

The White House coronavirus task force, which is headed by Vice President Mike Pence, viewed the CDC's advice as overly restrictive and in some cases thought it undercut the White House's three-phase guidelines for opening up the country, released in mid-April, the official said.

Kayleigh McEnany, the new White House press secretary, boasted to reporters this week, "As you are well aware, President Trump has consistently sided with the experts."

In reality, I'm afraid we're well aware of the opposite.

The Associated Press had a follow-up report late yesterday, which added that the CDC "has repeatedly found its suggestions for fighting the coronavirus outbreak taking a backseat to other concerns within the Trump administration. That leaves public health experts outside government fearing the agency's decades of experience in beating back disease threats are going to waste."

When the AP spoke to Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's second-highest ranking administrator, about whether the agency's recommendations were being ignored by federal policymakers, she paused before replying slowly.

"The CDC is providing our best evidence-based information to policy makers and providing that on a daily basis to protect the American people," she said, without further comment.

The larger pattern is clear and unsettling. Dr. Rick Bright, who until last month was the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response and director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, has alleged that he was ousted for pushing back on "efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections."

Around the same time, CDC Director Robert Redfield found himself in the middle of a political mess for daring to say accurate things the president considered off-message.

In February, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, also from the CDC, warned of "significant disruption of our lives" as a result of COVID-19. When Wall Street reacted with alarm, Trump signaled to his team that he was ready to fire her.

Just this week, the president of American Association of Nurse Practitioners said access to supplies has been "sporadic" in many medical facilities nationwide, leading the president to push back immediately for her failure to toe the party line.

Kayleigh McEnany may want people to believe that Trump has "consistently sided with the experts," because that sounds far more appealing than having an amateur president and his political team ignoring scientists, experts, and leading authorities who are willing to tell the president what he doesn't want to hear.

But reality, like science, is stubborn.