Birx, at one point called “pathetic” by former president Donald Trump on Twitter, told Brennan that her job and the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 412,000 people in the United States were politicized under the Trump administration.
“Colleagues of mine that I’d known for decades — decades — in that one experience, because I was in the White House, decided that I had become this political person, even though they had known me forever,” she said. “I had to ask myself every morning, ‘Is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic?’ And it’s something I asked myself every night.”
Birx told CBS that she was “censored” by the White House, but she denied that she ever purposefully withheld information.
She said she will retire “within the next four to six weeks.” She had announced in late December that she planned to leave her post at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following an Associated Press report that she’d visited Fenwick Island in Delaware with her family the day after Thanksgiving, at a time when the CDC cautioned against traveling for the holiday. Birx said she would assist with the Biden administration’s transition before leaving.
Birx, a world-renowned AIDS researcher, was tapped by Vice President Mike Pence to be his “right hand” leading the administration’s turbulent coronavirus response. During her four-decade career in public service, Birx was an Army physician, director of the United States Military HIV Research Program and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator under President Barack Obama.
She and Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, became fixtures of the government’s response to the pandemic, appearing in press briefings early in the crisis. But while Fauci quickly earned the ire of the former president for contradicting his rosy assessment of the nation’s death toll and outstripping Trump in favorability polls, Birx endorsed the administration’s response and gained Trump’s appreciation for a time.
Yet Trump still grew frustrated with Birx, as he had with other public health experts around him, when she raised alarms about the severity of the pandemic.
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) privately called Birx “the worst,” and Birx subsequently said the virus was “extraordinarily widespread” across the nation, Trump disparaged her on Twitter.
“So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics,” Trump tweeted. “In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”
Birx told Brennan that she had mounting concerns about the administration’s pandemic strategy, especially closer to the election.
“When it became a point where I wasn’t getting anywhere — and that was like right before the election — I wrote a very detailed communication plan of what needed to happen the day after the election and how that needed to be executed,” she said. “And there was a lot of promise that that would happen.”
In a Nov. 2 report, Birx put it bluntly: Sugarcoating the danger of the virus would cost the nation lives.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic . . . leading to increasing mortality,” she wrote in the report, previously obtained by The Washington Post. “This is not about lockdowns — it hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
Birx struck down Trump’s declarations that the country was “rounding the turn” (she noted new per capita cases were rising) and that increased testing was the reason for more reported cases (she noted testing was “flat or declining” in many areas where cases were rising).