During a Sunday morning talk show interview, Dr. Deborah Birx addressed numerous questions about the current state of the coronavirus pandemic. But it is the state of the nation’s trust in one of President Trump’s top medical advisors that may be the biggest question of all.
As the nation grapples with a ceaseless wave of coronavirus cases, the statistics point to a deepening crisis. As of Saturday, the United States had reported over 4.7 million cases and almost 157,000 deaths, with some states continuing to reach record highs of daily reported cases. With the coming academic year fast approaching, there are also concerns about how the pandemic will impact children’s ability to return to school in the fall.
Asked about these issues by Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dr. Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, had a sobering assessment on the state of the pandemic in the United States.
“I want to be clear, what we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas,” Birx said.
On the prospects of opening schools in the fall, Birx had similarly sobering comments regarding limits on group activities. “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,” Birx said. “We are asking people to distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.”
Responding to a question about former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s suggestion on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that coronavirus deaths in the United States might exceed 300,000, Birx replied, “anything is possible,” noting that social distancing practices would help diminish the chance of such an outcome.
Later on Sunday morning, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addressed Birx’s Sunday morning comments. Asked whether she had any confidence in Dr. Birx, Pelosi was blunt. “I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus, and she is his appointee. So, I don’t have confidence there, no.” Pelosi’s response was in the wake of a Politico report on Friday that shared Pelosi had fiercely criticized Birx in a Thursday evening meeting with White House officials. In the meeting, the Speaker reportedly told Whites House aides “Deborah Birx is the worst. Wow, what horrible hands you’re in.”
Pelosi’s withering criticism also comes at a time when polls show a majority of the nation is dissatisfied with President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, as the public tries to makes sense of inconsistent messaging from the White House, fractured federal and state responses, and a seemingly whack-a-mole approach to virus hotspots across the country, frustration with Birx continues to grow. The sentiments about Birx also stand in stark contrast to a much more favorable perception of her colleague, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Birx is subject to such strident criticism partially because she is often seen, like on Sunday, as a mouthpiece for the President, as opposed to a credible medical expert expressing her own independent views. Unlike Fauci, who doesn’t hesitate to disagree with the President publicly, Birx is often viewed as someone who tries to explain away the President’s more pernicious comments about the status of the pandemic.
While none of the criticisms of Birx are new, Sunday’s comments by both Birx and Pelosi only add fuel to the flames of doubt that are engulfing Birx as the pandemic deepens. Is it time for her to step down and let new leadership, and new trust in the federal coronavirus response, develop? That is only a decision that she and the President can make. But as the nation reels from a lack of a consistent strategy for containing the deadly virus…
It might be the lack of trust in its leaders that is the deadliest trend of all.