Report: White House Pressured CDC To Fall In Line With Trump On Opening Schools

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Top White House officials spent weeks trying to pressure CDC officials to fall in line with President Trump's position.

Over the summer, top White House officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to downplay the risk of reopening schools in what The New York Times described as a “strikingly political intervention in one of the most sensitive public health debates of the pandemic.”

As part of their behind-the-scenes effort, White House officials also tried to circumvent the C.D.C. in a search for alternate data showing that the pandemic was weakening and posed little danger to children.

The documents and interviews show how the White House spent weeks trying to press public health professionals to fall in line with President Trump’s election-year agenda of pushing to reopen schools and the economy as quickly as possible.

  • Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, and officials working for task force leader Vice President Mike Pence were involved in the effort.
  • Olivia Troye, one of Pence’s top aides on the task force, said Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short repeatedly asked her to get the CDC to produce charts and reports showing a decline in coronavirus cases among children.

“You’re impacting people’s lives for whatever political agenda. You’re exchanging votes for lives, and I have a serious problem with that," said Ms. Troye, who left the White House in August and has begun speaking out publicly against Mr. Trump.

  • Meanwhile, Dr. Birx reportedly “took a direct role in an effort to push the C.D.C. to incorporate work from a little-known agency inside the Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”
  • The document warned that keeping schools closed would adversely affect children’s mental health. It said there were “very few reports of children being the primary source of Covid-19 transmission among family members.”
  • Dr. Birx asked CDC Director Robert Redfield in a July email to include the document “as background in the introduction section” of the CDC’s guidance.

C.D.C. scientists pointed out numerous errors in the document and raised concerns that it appeared to minimize the risk of the coronavirus to school-age children, according to an edited version of the document obtained by The New York Times.

But the gist of the mental health agency’s position — stressing the potential risks of children not attending school — became the introductory text of the final C.D.C. policy, leaving some officials there dismayed.

  • The efforts by White House officials began after President Trump “became angry about what he thought were the C.D.C.’s overly stringent recommendations” in early July.
  • Trump tweeted at the time: “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but it is important for the children and families. May cut off funding if not open!”

On July 23, with hours to go before the new guidance was to be published, the White House staff secretary further stunned C.D.C. officials by emailing the guidance to a long list of top White House officials, asking for any "critical edits" by 1 p.m.

The list included Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser; Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council; and Stephen Miller, a White House policy adviser.

By the time it was published, it contained information that C.D.C. officials had objected to earlier in the week, suggesting in particular that the coronavirus was less deadly to children than the seasonal flu.

Read the full report.


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