President Donald Trump went after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Monday for her blasts at Dr. Deborah Birx – then accused his own coronavirus task for chief of taking the bait by highlighting the spread of the disease.
The president’s language, fired off on Twitter after the public clash, follows intense scrutiny of his relationship with infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci as his administration seeks to get a handle on the coronavirus crisis. It appears to be his first public attack on Birx, who like Fauci has a prestigious medical background.
It came after Birx told the nation the coronavirus has become ‘extraordinarily widespread’ across the country.
‘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,’ Trump wrote Monday morning.
‘In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!’ he wrote. His tweet did not make entirely clear whether it was Pelosi’s high-profile criticism – or Birx’s efforts at self-defense, that he considered pathetic.
Birx, who has become a prominent face of the administration’s response amid occasional distance between Trump and Fauci, warned that the US has entered a ‘new phase’ in the ongoing struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
That followed Pelosi saying she had ‘no confidence’ in the health advisor’s counsel.
Pelosi stood by her criticism in an interview with CNN Monday morning, harkening back to Trump’s infamous coronavirus briefing where he spoke about injecting light into the body and injecting disinfectants into the body while task force members looked on.
‘I don’t have confidence in anyone who stands there while the President says swallow Lysol and it’s going to cure your virus,’ Pelosi said.
Asked to expand, she added: ‘I think that she has enabled’ Trump, Pelosi said. She said the Trump administration ‘has not had a strategic plan’ for the virus.
During his April 24th briefing as the coronavirus raged, Trump looked repeatedly at a seated Birx while he made his comments.
Birx sat nearly expressionless at the side of the briefing room while Trump riffed about an ‘injection inside or almost a cleaning … it sounds interesting to me.’
Tensions appeared to brew this week between top government officials and public health experts as Pelosi admonished Birx for reportedly aiding Trump in spreading coronavirus disinformation.
‘Deborah Birx is the worst. Wow, what horrible hands you’re in,’ said Pelosi, according to Politico.
And Pelosi doubled down on her statement on Sunday, telling ABC’s This Week: ‘I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee so, I don’t have confidence there, no.’
But the White House coronavirus task force coordinator continued to offer health guidance during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that acknowledged the virus has not been contained.
‘What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas,’ said Birx. ‘And that is why we keep saying, no matter where you live in America, you need to wear a mask and socially distance, do the personal hygiene pieces.’
Birx also expressed her admiration for Pelosi.
‘I have tremendous respect for the Speaker. And I have tremendous respect for her long dedication to the American people,’ she said.
Indeed, the coronavirus has reached the farthest corners of the United States as hot spots erupted in states like California, Florida and Kansas.
Dr. Deborah Birx says, “we are in a new phase” of the coronavirus pandemic adding, “This epidemic right now is different and it’s … more widespread and it’s both rural and urban” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/w09X9GrhL0
This week, America surpassed another grim milestone to record 4,620,419 confirmed infections and a growing death toll of 154,361.
Several states are scrambling to lower infections rates, create a feasible education plan for the upcoming school year and navigate a pandemic that has been criticized for having ‘a lack of national leadership.’
According to a chart displayed by CNN, Dr. Birx is currently monitoring 20 of the 50 states for their coronavirus infections levels. She is a lead member of the coronavirus task force along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Birx did not seem too concerned about House Speaker Pelosi’s lack of confidence in her advice.
Asked about Pelosi’s comment during her CNN interview, Birx said she had great respect for Pelosi and attributed the criticism to a New York Times article on the White House pandemic response that described Birx as having embraced overly optimistic assessments on the virus.
JUST IN: “I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee so, I don’t have confidence there, no,” Speaker Pelosi tells @MarthaRaddatz when asked is she has confidence in Dr. Deborah Birx. https://t.co/HNQgCe39RN pic.twitter.com/ZDZYAjr0cJ
‘This was not a pollyannish view. I’ve never been called pollyannish, or non-scientific, or non-data driven,’ Birx said. ‘I will stake my 40-year career on those fundamental principles of using data to implement better programs and save lives.’
Birx then pushed back on a misconception that the virus only inundated urban landscapes, like the former epicenter New York City, and not other rural regions.
‘To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus,’ said Birx.
‘If you’re in multi-generational households, and there’s an outbreak in your rural area or in your city, you need to really consider wearing a mask at home, assuming that you’re positive, if you have individuals in your households with comorbidities.
‘This epidemic right now is different and it’s more widespread and it’s both rural and urban.’
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published an ensemble forecast that estimates more than 173,000 Americans will die of coronavirus by August 22.
And former US Food and Drug Administrator Dr. Scott Gottlieb told viewers on CNBC in June that coronavirus-related deaths could reach 300,000 by the end of the year.
Birx did not give a projection for the thousands of potential deaths Americans could face before the year’s end, but she did acknowledge that it will depend on Midwestern and Southern states to slow down the spread.
‘It’s not super spreading individuals, it’s super spreading events and we need to stop those. We definitely need to take more precautions,’ she told CNN.
Birx added that each of the 50 states need ‘dramatically tailored’ pandemic plans that include ‘set of recommendations based on what we are seeing at the community level, what we are seeing relevant to the hospitals.’
Part of the Trump administration’s largest critiques of his muddled pandemic response was that the federal government left much of the slack to state and local officials.
State governors were given power to decide how to manage lockdown orders, oversaw the reopening of businesses and will decided if in-person schooling will be allowed in the next few weeks.
Last moth, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti blamed the Trump administration for not taking a more active role in unifying the country’s pandemic response.
‘I think a lot of things went wrong. We’ve seen no national leadership,’ said Garcetti on CNN’s State of the Union in July.
‘We’ve had to stand up testing centers on our own, we’ve had to do so much that is outside of our lane because of the lack of national leadership – but I also think some people are just exhausted.’
During Sunday’s interview, Birx was asked if schools in states with a five per cent positivity rate should rely on distance learning.
President Trump has launched an aggressive campaign to reopen schools in the fall to help jump start the country’s economy, despite cases rising across the nation and parents concerned over a lack of attainable plans.
‘If you have high case load and active community spread, just like we are asking people not to go to bars, not to have household parties, not to create large spreading events, we are asking people to distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control,’ said Birx.
The Trump administration has gained a consistent stream of scrutiny for its pandemic response over the last six months, with recent conversations about the next coronavirus relief bill among them.
Pelosi said during her ‘This Week’ interview that Trump was to blame for the deadlocked negotiations.
‘He’s the one who is standing in the way of that,’ she said. ‘We have been for the $600, they have a $200 proposal, which does not meet the needs of America’s working families.’
Pelosi acknowledged that Saturday’s discussions were ‘productive in terms of moving things forward,’ but an agreement has not been reached.
‘Well the fact is we will be close to an agreement, when we have an agreement,’ Pelosi said.
The $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit is at the center of the discussions, with Republicans proposing $200 per week and Democrats fighting to stay at $600.
‘The amount of money that is given as an enhancement for unemployment insurance should relate to the rate of unemployment,’ said Pelosi.
‘So when that goes down, then you can consider something less than the $600, but in this agreement it’s $600.’
Another controversial point is the President’s praise for hydroxychloroquine.
Just last week, social media giants Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed a video shared by Trump that promotes unproven claims that the drug hydroxychloroquine can treat or cure the virus.
There is no current medically-proven cure for the virus.
The clip, which was originally posted by the right-wing news site Breitbart, featured four people who identified themselves as doctors speaking in front of the Supreme Court building.
One was Stella Immanuel, who claims to be a physician in Houston, and said hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug often touted by Trump, was a cure for COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine was first introduced to the public as a potential ‘game-changer’ by Trump in March – just as the virus overtook the country with quickly rising cases and deaths.
Trump reportedly felt so strongly about the unproven drug that he began taking it himself and was set to finish his prescription in May.
‘I’m taking it – hydroxychloroquine. Right now yeah. A couple of weeks ago, started taking it,’ he told reporters at the White House at the time.
In addition touting the drug while it was still unproven, Trump faced backlash over a series of incorrect statements he made in reference to it.
Trump on at least one occasion declared the FDA ‘feels good about it’ and claimed they approved the drug.
‘I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense,’ said Trump in April.
‘The FDA feels good about it. As you know, they’ve approved it, they gave it a rapid approval, and the reason [is] because it’s been out there for a long time, and they know the side effects and they also know the potential.’
Although the agency did permit emergency authorization at the beginning of the crisis, they have since rescinded the authorization and have yet to approve of it.
Trump has also tried to boost hydroxychloroquine’s popularity by saying it was a popular choice among medical staff and responders on the front lines.
‘You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers, he said.
The next day he claimed the drug ‘is used by thousands and thousands of frontline workers.’
Dr. Bob Wachter, the chair of the University of California, San Francisco’s department of medicine, told Factcheck.org that he didn’t know ‘any clinician’ taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent the coronavirus.