White House officials at 'highest levels' quashed CDC guidelines

The White House said detailed reopening guidelines were withheld because they hadn't been approved by CDC director. That wasn't true.
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

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 on Thursday that the step-by-step recommendations were "shelved" by the administration. The White House's direct role in this mess is now coming into focus:

The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation's top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.... The trove of emails show the nation's top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.

Kayleigh McEnany, the president's new press secretary who recently vowed to never lie, defended the White House's handling of the matter on Friday, claiming that the detailed reopening guidelines hadn't been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield, which is why they weren't released to the public.

The emails obtained by the AP proves that her explanation wasn't true: the article added that Redfield cleared the materials, but they were blocked anyway by White House officials who considered the detailed guidance politically inconvenient.

Why does this matter? For one thing, it appears the White House failed to tell the truth about its handling of important CDC materials during a pandemic crisis.

But even more important is the fact that we keep confronting instances in which leading scientific experts and authorities try to steer Team Trump in responsible directions, only to have the White House's political interests get in the way.

In this case, however, exposing relevant details to the public had an immediate effect: according to the materials obtained by the Associated Press, after the AP's report on Thursday about the administration burying the CDC directives, "the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval."

Imagine that.