White House trade adviser Peter Navarro lashed out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday as he struggled to deflect blame for the Trump administration’s disastrous coronavirus response. “Early on in this crisis, the CDC—which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space—really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro said on NBC’s Meet the Press. ”Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.”
It’s true that the CDC screwed up on testing—but that was one administration screw-up among many. So many. “This administration has shown time and time again that it has a problem with science. We are giving them science and they don't seem to want it,” an unnamed “veteran CDC official” told CNN.
“Now we're being too general. Before it was too much specificity. We continue to get mixed messages from the White House,” the official said, referring to the White House blocking the release of CDC guidelines for reopening. “We are allowed to release what they allow us to release.”
The White House repeatedly showed what the official Team Trump view of science and the CDC in the lead-up to the coronavirus pandemic hitting the United States, from ignoring the warning of a 2018 conference commemorating the 1918 Spanish flu to offering a plan to cut the CDC's budget even as COVID-19 spread in China to having already slashed global pandemic response funding to clamping down on an official who warned that “disruption to everyday life may be severe.”
In recent weeks, the CDC has been sidelined by the White House, but Navarro’s outright attack on the agency was an escalation. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar responded, when asked, that “I don’t believe the CDC let this country down.” That doesn’t mean the CDC—or public health concerns at all—will be given a central role in the Trump administration’s ongoing coronavirus response, though.