Dr. Deborah Birx was stung by President Donald Trump’s tweet criticizing her after she offered what she believed was an accurate assessment of the current state of coronavirus outbreaks in the US, a person familiar with her reaction told CNN Tuesday.
After Birx warned the pandemic is “extraordinarily widespread” across the country, Trump, who has otherwise praised the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, publicly attacked Birx for the first time Monday morning.
“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. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!” Trump tweeted.
The dust-up comes as the country continues to be ravaged by coronavirus, with more than 150,000 US citizens dead and more than 4 million cases. Trump has consistently lied and misled mostly in attempts to downplay concerns about the virus as he presses for schools and businesses to reopen.
Birx has often sought to toe the line between directly contradicting the President while accurately portraying the data she pores over. She had been warned something like this — Trump’s tweet — could happen. But it wasn’t just that comment that drew the President’s ire, another person said. Trump was also irritated by her answer that she had “tremendous respect” for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Birx was in the Oval Office with Trump Monday, though a person declined to elaborate on that interaction.
When Trump was asked what he meant in his tweet, the President sidestepped the question, appearing to dial back the temperature.
“Well, I think that we’re doing very well and we have done as well as any nation,” he told reporters at a press briefing Monday afternoon.
“I told Dr. Birx I think we’re doing very well. She was in my office a little while ago. She’s a person I have a lot of respect for. I think Nancy Pelosi’s treated her very badly,” Trump added. “And I’m just referring to the fact that I thought that, really, they should say the job we’ve done … I think we’re just doing very well.”
Birx sounded the alarms during an appearance on CNN Sunday, telling CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that the pandemic has reached a new phase.
“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas,” she said, suggesting that some Americans in multi-generational families should start wearing masks inside their homes.
She did not reject a warning by former Federal Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb that there could be 300,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of the year, saying, “Anything is possible.”
Birx also responded to remarks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said on ABC’s “This Week” that she did not have confidence in the task force coordinator because the President continues to spread disinformation.
“I think the President is spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee, so I don’t have confidence there, no,” Pelosi said.
Birx then defended herself on Sunday.
“I have never been called pollyannish, or nonscientific, or non-data driven,” Birx said. “And I will stake my 40-year career on those fundamental principles of utilizing data to really implement better programs to save more lives.”
At an executive order signing on Monday, Trump was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta why coronavirus task force health experts are contradicting him.
The President demurred, saying: “I think we’re doing a great job.”
Birx has been able to develop a close relationship with the Trump White House, which has tainted her reputation among some public health experts. She has avoided openly criticizing the administration. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has taken a more public-facing role with many media appearances, has earned more irritation from the President, who openly attacked the doctor and questioned during a press briefing last week why Fauci’s approval was so high.