The health department’s politically appointed communications aides have demanded the right to review and seek changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports charting the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, in what officials characterized as an attempt to intimidate the reports’ authors and water down their communications to health professionals.
In some cases, emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump’s optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to emails reviewed by POLITICO and three people familiar with the situation.
CDC officials have fought back against the most sweeping changes, but have increasingly agreed to allow the political officials to review the reports and, in a few cases, compromised on the wording, according to three people familiar with the exchanges. The communications aides’ efforts to change the language in the CDC’s reports have been constant across the summer and continued as recently as Friday afternoon.
The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department officials, and have been viewed as a cornerstone of the nation’s public health work for decades.
But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the Health and Human Services department’s new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump’s statements, including the president’s claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.
Caputo and his team have attempted to add caveats to the CDC’s findings, including an effort to retroactively change agency reports that they said wrongly inflated the risks of Covid-19 and should have made clear that Americans sickened by the virus may have been infected because of their own behavior, according to the individuals familiar with the situation and emails reviewed by POLITICO.
September 11, 2020
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request for full federal funding of the Michigan National Guard’s coronavirus activities has been denied, she said Thursday.
Whitmer said her chief of staff received a voicemail from a White House official with President Donald Trump’s decision. That means the state will be required to pay 25% of the National Guard’s cost for assisting with the coronavirus pandemic beginning on Aug. 26.
Trump extended the Michigan National Guard’s coronavirus deployment through the end of 2020 with the cost sharing provision back in August. The federal government had paid 100% of National Guard costs in Michigan from March to August. […]
However, National Guard units in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Connecticut and California will continue with full federal funding. Whitmer called Trump’s decision to fully fund the National Guard in some states but not others “blatantly partisan.”
September 10, 2020
President Donald Trump, in an interview with journalist Bob Woodward, has admitted to deliberately minimizing the seriousness of the novel coronavirus to the public despite understanding its true danger, according to reports on Wednesday.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said on March 19, according to CNN, which obtained an audio recording of the interview, and The Washington Post. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Trump had acknowledged to Woodward over a month before that the recognized COVID-19 was “deadly stuff,” according to CNN — in contrast with the president’s public assertions the virus would “work out fine” and was “very much under control.”
September 9, 2020
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent a letter last week to the nation’s governors with an urgent request. The Trump administration wanted them to do everything in their power to eliminate hurdles for vaccine distribution sites to be fully operational by Nov. 1.
The Aug. 27 letter, obtained by McClatchy, asked governors to fast-track permits and licenses for new distribution sites. “The normal time required to obtain these permits presents a significant barrier to the success of this urgent public health program,” Redfield wrote.
“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities,” he continued, “and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020.”
September 2, 2020