Trump swayed by ‘dangerous ideas’ about coronavirus, Birx tells House panel

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Deborah Birx, who was tapped to coordinate the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus in February 2020 but quickly fell out of favor with the president, painted a picture on Thursday of a wide-ranging dysfunction that she says induced the misled the public and state officials, hampered coronavirus testing and contributed to unnecessary deaths from the virus.

“People were communicating with the president with dangerous ideas…on a daily basis,” like encouraging former President Donald Trump to advocate for unproven treatments, including hydroxychloroquine, or giving him misleading data about the virus, Birx said. to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Asked about Trump’s repeated claims in 2020 that the virus would simply go away, Birx implied that the president mistakenly believed that if enough Americans got infected, the pandemic would go away.

“I think there were individuals communicating with the White House … who thought that if you infected enough people, you would have herd immunity. There was no proof [of that] — in fact, there was evidence to the contrary,” Birx said.

Birx also criticized Scott Atlas, a senior health policy fellow at Stanford University who joined the administration in July 2020 and won favor with Trump by saying many infections were inevitable and pushing for a government response. less robust. Atlas’ private advice and public commentary broke with recommendations made by Birx and other pandemic experts such as Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.

“It certainly destroyed any cohesion in the response,” Birx said, adding that Atlas and other officials had presented the president with data that she said gave a rosier view of the pandemic than was justified.

“When you no longer agree on what is really happening in the country and what needs to be done…then you lose the ability to execute in the most efficient and effective way,” Birx said. .

Birx also recounted an Oval Office meeting with Atlas and Trump in August 2020 in which officials discussed a summer spike in coronavirus cases.

“Dr. Atlas took this opportunity to argue that no matter what you did, every one of those surges would be the same. It didn’t matter if you tested. they were contagious was a violation of their rights, and it amounted to confinement,” Birx testified. “Those kinds of thoughts, especially in any infectious disease, are dangerous.”

Birx told panel investigators last year that the looming 2020 election had distracted Trump officials from the pandemic and that more than 130,000 American lives could have been saved with faster action and better public health messaging. coordinated after the first wave of the virus.

“We have learned and will remember the priority given to politics over science,” Rep. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.), who chairs the panel, said Thursday.

Atlas did not respond to requests for comment. Atlas, who had no expertise in fighting pandemics, blamed Birx for “harmful lockdowns” in early 2020 which he said caused widespread harm to children and the elderly.

“Dr. Birx cannot be allowed to rewrite history and avoid responsibility for her failures,” Atlas told The Washington Post in a statement last year.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Birx’s testimony and the new allegations. “She was a very negative voice who didn’t have the right answers,” Trump said in a statement last year of Birx’s earlier criticism of the response.

Republicans at the hearing pressed Birx on unresolved questions about the origin of the virus, which Birx largely deflected, and complained that Democrats were not examining the Biden administration’s pandemic strategy.

“Here we are today, having yet another hearing with a witness to discuss things that happened over two years ago,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the top Republican on the panel. , asking why Fauci hadn’t testified before the panel in over a year, and why former Biden White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients and current coordinator Ashish Jha hadn’t been called in to answer questions. on the response of the current administration.

Birx separately criticized the ongoing response, saying better communication and more vaccinations were needed to save lives, especially in rural America.

“We are still losing Americans today at … a very unacceptable rate when we have the tools to prevent it,” Birx said. Nearly 300 Americans die every day from covid-19, according to the Post’s seven-day rolling average.

Democrats on Thursday released hundreds of pages of interviews with Birx conducted last October, during which she made additional allegations about Trump’s White House pandemic strategy. Birx said Trump officials frequently asked her to edit pandemic status reports, which she sent to governors’ offices, and she reluctantly agreed.

“If the changes had not been…made, the governors’ reports would not have been released,” Birx told investigators, declining to identify the officials who demanded the changes.

Democrats also released a staff report this week accusing Atlas of being the author of a “dangerous and discredited herd immunity strategy”, based on interviews with Birx and other officials and documents recently published.

The documents included an email sent by Atlas to a Trump health official in March 2020 in which Atlas said the coronavirus outbreak was likely to “cause approximately 10,000 deaths” and said the federal government had responded to excessive way. Atlas did not respond to questions from The Post regarding the email.

Birx was the first former Trump official to testify publicly before the House panel about the previous administration’s response, and Democrats initially viewed their more than two-year-old coronavirus investigation as an opportunity to put highlighting Trump’s pandemic mistakes ahead of this year’s election.

But that strategy has been complicated by the persistence of the pandemic under President Biden and waning voter interest in the coronavirus as a priority, and the panel’s findings have increasingly been overshadowed by other Democratic priorities. Thursday morning the hearing was relatively low-key, with lawmakers focusing on an afternoon House panel investigating Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to void the 2020 election.

Birx sat alone at the hearing table, accompanied by her memoir detailing her time as Trump’s coronavirus coordinator. The book had sold 5,938 copies as of June 11, an NPD BookScan analyst told the Post last week.

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