CDC Guidance Was Edited by Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway
It’s no secret that Donald Trump completely mishandled his response to the coronavirus, but now two former Trump administration officials from the CDC say the White House dismissed scientific facts, meddled in public messaging, and stifled the agency’s voice during the coronavirus pandemic. It was also revealed that both Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway, neither of whom hold any medical degrees, had a major influence over editing the CDC’s guidance that was released to the public.
In multiple interviews with The New York Times, Kyle McGowan, a former chief of staff within the CDC, and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, explained how political and economic considerations from the White House often took precedence over science. And now they are worried that those tactics from the Trump administration will have a lasting impact on the CDC.
McGowan and Campbell both identified as Republicans and were two of the youngest appointed staff at the CDC. According to The New York Times, McGowan and Campbell were often two of the highest-ranking officials in Atlanta because Dr. Robert Redfield, the current director of the CDC was frequently in Washington. McGowan explained that White House officials and people who were part of Trump’s inner circle gradually strengthened their grasp over the CDC. For example, the CDC’s weekly disease outbreak reports were always considered free from any political interference.
But just last week, the editor in chief of the reports reported that she was ordered to destroy an email that contained information about Trump appointees working to alter change the publication. In other instances, the White House requested to review the content of the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance documents. Agency employees felt as though the guidelines were available to “an endless loop of political appointees across Washington,” according to The New York Times. Those appointees were revealed to be Trump’s daughter Ivanka and former adviser Conway.
McGowan cited another instance in which the White House was focused on the economic side effects of public health guidelines. Russel Vought, another Trump appointee and the White House budget director, argued that specific recommendations about restaurants spacing out patrons by six feet or more would be too cumbersome for businesses to implement. Vought’s influence in CDC policy would have been unheard of in previous administrations, especially because his role as the White House budget director is unrelated to anything regarding healthcare policy.
Campbell witnessed similar efforts to stifle the CDC’s recommendations, as when Trump officials requested the CDC make changes to its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports which are widely considered completely apolitical. Over the summer officials repeatedly asked CDC employees to delay, revise, or even scrap whole drafts of the report that they thought could oppose Trump’s own positions. According to McGowan, when political messaging butted heads with science, the messaging always won.
As of Thursday, the death toll from the coronavirus in the United States had passed 308,000, with a reported 27 million active cases across the country.