Not being publicly outspoken enough about issues with the Covid-19 response may have been Deborah Birx’s biggest mistake, the former White House coronavirus task force coordinator said in a 30-minute interview that aired Sunday morning on CBS News’s Face the Nation.
In her conversation with CBS’s Margaret Brennan, Birx shed some new light on what was happening behind the scenes of the Trump administration’s pandemic response — a response that has been widely criticized for being disconnected from the advice of scientists on and outside of the task force. Birx said she had chosen not to do the interview until after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
During her time as the leader of the task force, Birx said that she saw former president Donald Trump present data and graphs she had not compiled and said only two people in the White House routinely wore masks: herself and a member of her support staff. At times, her private advice to governors contradicted what the federal government was telling the public. She didn’t know how sick the President became after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in October. And she said that at the White House, “there were people who definitely believed that [Covid-19] was a hoax.”
The interview comes just days after White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing that she couldn’t say in the moment whether Birx was still on President Biden’s Covid-19 team. Birx previously said she planned to retire after Biden’s inauguration.
“I understood that to go into the White House and try to support a comprehensive coronavirus response by utilizing the strength of the federal government would be a terminal event for my federal career, which is part of the reason why I didn’t want to do it,” Birx said in Sunday’s interview.
Birx said that while she was publicly supporting the president’s efforts — at one point praising “his ability to analyze and integrate data” — she was concerned that White House staff were inappropriately interpreting data about the effectiveness of wearing masks. She also said she “had very little exposure” to President Trump and instead primarily communicated with the vice president, and with state governors on a weekly call.
“You have to figure out how to get that message out when you can’t get it out from the head of the country,” Birx said. “The vice president knew what I was doing.”
“You mean he knew that you were telling the governors privately to do things that the president publicly was making light of?” Brennan asked.
“He knew what I was doing,” Birx continued.
On social media, many criticized Birx for only recently repudiating some of the efforts of the task force and the previous administration.
“She was more committed to keeping her job than actually doing it well,” tweeted Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown.
However, Birx said, “what was reassuring to me all along is I knew this would be studied. I knew that the emails, the reports that I wrote, the request to expand testing, the how to improve therapeutics, all of that, all of that would eventually come to light. Maybe not in my lifetime.”
“You feel you’ll be vindicated?” Brennan asked.
“I’m not looking to be vindicated,” Birx said.