Who does Team Trump blame for virus response? Add CDC to list

Who does Team Trump blame for strained federal response to the coronavirus? It's a long list, which we can apparently add the CDC to.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce first Ebola case diagnosed in the USA.
epa04425449 The entrance to the main campus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 30 September 2014.JOHN AMIS / EPA
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By Steve Benen

On Meet the Press yesterday, NBC News' Chuck Todd asked White House advisor Peter Navarro about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and whether Donald Trump has confidence in the federal agency. Navarro wouldn't answer directly, though he did take the opportunity to take a not-so-subtle shot at the CDC.

"[E]arly on in this crisis, the CDC which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing," the presidential advisor argued. "Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back."

In recent months, Donald Trump and his team have searched desperately for people and entities they can blame for the United States' strained response to the coronavirus pandemic. The president, in particular, has lashed out at Democrats, governors, journalists, China, the Obama administration, hospitals, and the World Health Organization. In early April, the Washington Post published a list of "everyone and everything Trump has blamed for his coronavirus response," and it was not an especially short piece.

Evidently, we can add the CDC to the list.

Last week, The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, published a striking editorial making the case that American voters must elect a president in the fall "who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics." But just as importantly, The Lancet called for a restoration of the CDC, lamenting the degree to which the current Republican administration has "eroded" and "chipped away at" the agency.

There is no doubt that the CDC has made mistakes, especially on testing in the early stages of the pandemic.... But punishing the agency by marginalizing and hobbling it is not the solution. The Administration is obsessed with magic bullets -- vaccines, new medicines, or a hope that the virus will simply disappear. But only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency. The CDC needs a director who can provide leadership without the threat of being silenced and who has the technical capacity to lead today's complicated effort.

And yet, at the White House, marginalizing and hobbling the CDC appears to be the preferred course of action. The agency hasn't received permission to do a public briefing in nearly two months, and as we've discussed on multiple occasions, the CDC crafted detailed guidelines, created by the nation's top disease investigators, on how best to responsibly reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, only to have the White House shelve the department's work.

Some of the information from the guidelines has finally started to emerge, but only parts, and only after the Associated Press' reporting put untenable pressure on administration officials.

Regardless, Team Trump's larger effort challenging the CDC and its role in the midst of the pandemic remains very much underway. A Washington Post report from Friday, for example, noted that the administration awarded an "unusual" $10.2 million contract to a private company to collect public-health information that the CDC already has. It raised the specter of the White House possibly contesting CDC data that the president and his team find politically inconvenient.

As Rachel added on Friday's show, at this unusually critical time, the CDC is facing existential questions about its survival and integrity, thanks entirely to a White House that seems increasingly eager to sideline the agency. Given the circumstances, it's tough to be optimistic.