At Hearing, Dr. Deborah Birx Tells Select Subcommittee that “Dangerous Ideas” Undermined Trump Administration Coronavirus Response

Jun 23, 2022
Press Release
Former Trump White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator provides firsthand account of how the Trump White House’s prioritization of politics and spread of misinformation undermined the nation’s coronavirus response

Washington, D.C. (June 23, 2022) – Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a hearing with Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator under President Trump. The hearing highlighted Dr. Birx’s firsthand knowledge of the Trump Administration’s historic failure of leadership in responding to the pandemic. 

“Our investigations have found that the Trump Administration engaged in a rampant campaign of political interference in the pandemic response: minimizing, undermining, and eventually even suppressing the work of scientists and public health experts in a misguided and dangerous attempt to advance the president’s political goals,” Chairman Clyburn said in his opening statement“President Trump’s contempt for science and his persistent attacks on public health experts have had a lasting harmful impact on our country, undermining many Americans’ trust in public health officials and institutions, and contributing to the continued politicization of public health. This damage has resulted in far too many coronavirus deaths, including deaths that could have been prevented through vaccinations. We cannot bring those Americans back, nor the more than 130,000 who Dr. Birx estimates lost their lives before vaccines as a result of the previous administration’s failures. But we must learn all we can about these failures so that we can properly prepare for future pandemic threats.” 

Dr. Birx provided the following additional testimony:

President Trump’s Failure to Accurately and Effectively Communicate the Severity of the Coronavirus Hampered the Country’s Ability to Prepare for and Respond to the Pandemic

  • In response to a question from Chairman Clyburn about what then-President Trump should have done differently in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Birx said that the Trump White House’s early messaging “created a sense among the American people that this was not going to be a serious pandemic.” She said that there was “continued communication of underplaying the seriousness of this pandemic,” even after “we could already see evidence of high fatality rates” from other countries.
  • According to Dr. Birx, the early failure to issue “concise, consistent communication about the seriousness of the pandemic resulted in inaction early on across our agencies” and “created a false sense of security in America.” Dr. Birx reiterated what she previously told the Select Subcommittee—that these and other failures by then-President Trump were devastating and led to the preventable loss of an estimated 130,000 American lives.

Then-President Trump’s Reelection Campaign and Efforts to Overturn the Election Results Distracted the White House and Detracted from the Pandemic Response

  • Dr. Birx said that “the White House was distracted about its reelection” and that this impacted the pandemic response. Dr. Birx explained that early in the crisis, she was able to have “discussions about what was not going optimally” within the White House and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, but that she found it “very difficult throughout the summer and the fall of 2020 to find those individuals.”
  • Dr. Birx testified that she “created a fall strategy” in September and October 2020 to combat the upcoming winter surge, but that the Trump White House did not implement it. She stated: “Of course, I would have wanted to start it earlier, but I believed—and I was given reason to believe—that after the election that strategy would be utilized to combat the surge that I knew was coming.” However, Dr. Birx stated that this strategy was “never fully executed in all of its robust and comprehensive approach” because the Trump White House was “distracted by the post-election issues.”

The Trump White House’s Full-Throated Embrace of Dr. Scott Atlas and His Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity Strategy “Absolutely” Undermined the Coronavirus Response

  • Dr. Birx confirmed the findings of a recent Select Subcommittee staff report that Dr. Atlas and his allies pursued a strategy premised on the idea that “if you infected enough people that you would have herd immunity.” Dr. Birx explained that “Dr. Atlas’s view was anybody who was not going to have severe disease should be allowed to become infected” with the coronavirus before any vaccines were available. She said that Dr. Atlas’s belief that “somehow you could magically separate the 50 or 60 million vulnerable Americans from that infection at a high level” was “impossible without mitigation.”
  • Dr. Birx recounted an August 2020 Oval Office meeting she attended with then-President Trump and Dr. Atlas, during which Dr. Atlas “took that opportunity to make the points that it didn’t matter what you did, each of these surges would be identical. It didn’t matter if you tested.” According to Dr. Birx, Dr. Atlas believed that testing young people and asking them to isolate if infectious “was an infringement of their rights and was equivalent to a lockdown.” She said: “These kind of thoughts, particularly in any infectious disease, are dangerous.”
  • When asked by Rep. Jamie Raskin whether Dr. Atlas’s tenure in the White House undermined America’s coronavirus response and jeopardized public health, Dr. Birx responded unequivocally: “Absolutely.” She explained that Dr. Atlas’s influence “created the sense that if Debbi [Birx], Bob [Redfield], Tony [Fauci], and Steve [Hahn] are saying this, and Scott Atlas and these PhDs are saying that, then no one’s right. And no one really knows. So it created a sense that anything could be right and nothing was absolutely right.” She added that Dr. Atlas’s presence in the White House “certainly destroyed any cohesion in the response in the White House itself.” 

President Trump and His Allies Chose to Rely on Coronavirus Misinformation—Rather than Sound Science—to Justify Their Disastrous Handling of the Pandemic Response

  • Dr. Birx said that President Trump’s April 23, 2020, press conference in which he suggested that Americans could inject themselves with disinfectant to treat coronavirus infections, “illustrates clearly that people were communicating with the President dangerous ideas.” She said: “These were coming into the White House on a daily basis from different individuals and I wasn’t there for a majority of those discussions.” 
  • Dr. Birx also revealed that “there were parallel streams of data coming into the White House and parallel analyses that I was not privy to. They would show up in statements.” Although “it was subtle at the beginning,” eventually Dr. Birx saw the president “holding up graphs that I had never seen or created.” 
  • Referring to the influence of misinformation on the Trump White House, Dr. Birx warned, “When you no longer agree on what is actually happening in the country and what needs to be done, and there’s not consensus on that, then you lose the ability to execute in the maximum efficient and effective way.”

Chairman Clyburn said in his closing remarks: “We have learned and will remember how the Trump Administration’s failures resulted in many thousands of preventable American deaths. We have learned and will remember how politics was prioritized over science. We have learned and will remember how damaging it is when people in positions of authority undermine public trust in those like Dr. Birx with lifesaving medical expertise. We can’t change the terrible history of the coronavirus pandemic, but we can remember it so that no future administration is condemned to repeat the Trump Administration’s failed response and its deadly consequences.”

Click here to read the Chairman’s opening statement in full.

Click here to watch the full hearing.

Click to read the full transcribed interview with Dr. Birx released today: Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Click to read the Trump White House documents released today:
August 11, 2020, email; August 13, 2020, email exchange; August 25, 2020, email; and November 1, 2020, report.

Click here to read Tuesday’s report on the Trump Administration’s embrace of a herd immunity via mass infection strategy

117th Congress