It’s not clear why, for the moment. All that’s clear is that the White House’s stated reasoning for the decision, “We need our doctors focused on the pandemic response,” is untrue. Someone in CDC management can spare a few hours to brief the nation on the crucially important question of whether it’s safe to reopen schools.
I think this much is clear too: Suspicion among the public that the CDC is being muzzled for political reasons will do the president more harm than anything Robert Redfield or one of his deputies is apt to say at the hearing. By some measures, Americans trust the CDC even more than they do Anthony Fauci. There’s no amount of incompetence by the agency that seems capable of shaking the public’s faith in it. And Trump has already announced his intentions to pressure the agency on its safety recommendations for schools in order to suit his “reopen everything ASAP” political agenda:
The media is paying close attention to this dispute. So are public-health officials. Biden went as far as to pledge recently that he’ll listen to the CDC on schools as president in order to contrast himself with Trump. If the agency ends up being gagged, I’d bet that the net effect will be the opposite of what the White House hopes to achieve by it. Instead of convincing wary parents that it’s safe to reopen schools because the CDC never said that it isn’t, many parents will conclude that the fix is in and will tilt against reopening even in places where it’s safe to do so.
It’s really the “White House vs. Fauci” problem all over again. In this week’s Quinnipiac survey, Americans split 65/26 on whether they trust COVID information from Fauci, 61/33 on whether they trust it from the CDC, and 30/67 on whether they trust it from Trump. The more it seems like he, rather than his health advisors, is calling the shots on when and whether to reopen, the more suspicious of reopening the public will be. It’ll be a total backfire.
“Dr. Redfield has testified on the Hill at least four times over the last three months. We need our doctors focused on the pandemic response,” a White House official said, confirming the decision to block the CDC’s participation in the hearing.
But a spokesman for the House Education and Labor Committee said the panel had requested testimony from any CDC official, not necessarily Redfield.
“We asked for anyone at CDC who could testify at the hearing. The invite was not for Dr. Redfield or no one,” the official said…
“It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the Committee at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators,” the Virginia Democrat [Bobby Scott] said in a statement.
“A committee aide said it asked the CDC if any other official was available next week, besides Redfield,” reports WaPo, “and the answer was still no.” The CDC was originally supposed to release its guidelines for reopening schools this week since school administrators need some lead time to get up to speed on safety precautions before doors open late next month. But the guidelines have also been delayed; they’ll be published “before the end of the month,” an agency spokesman told Politico. The suspicion, inescapably, is that the White House is holding them back in order to water them down to encourage schools to reopen. Whether it’s safe to do so or not.
There’s other news circulating today of the feds holding back information related to COVID safety that the public has an interest in knowing:
A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.
The document, dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, says 18 states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week. Eleven states are in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive…
“The fact that it’s not public makes no sense to me,” [Dr. Ashish] Jha said Thursday. “Why are we hiding this information from the American people? This should be published and updated every day.”
One obvious possibility for why it hasn’t been published is that doing so might put pressure on governors to issue new lockdown orders, which would interfere with the White House’s “reopen everything and restore the economy” electoral strategy. Between this and the CDC being blocked from testifying, it seems we’ve reached the “information suppression” stage of trying to manage the political fallout from the pandemic.
Meanwhile, here’s where things stand on America’s epidemic as of 6 p.m. ET this afternoon:
Today, the Midwest, South, and West all reported their highest number of cases since the start of the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/7kx7ePvA0c
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) July 17, 2020
One last point. The president’s 30/67 rating on trust in handling coronavirus isn’t noteworthy just because it’s a terrible number. It’s noteworthy because it would be impossible unless many Republicans have also lost trust in him. His floor in job approval and head-to-head polling with Biden is typically around 40 percent; that’s the share of the country that can normally be counted on to support him in everything, no matter what. To get to 30 percent on any issue, let alone an issue as significant as the pandemic, means that some meaningful number of people from his own party who’d otherwise side with him on anything have had their faith so badly shaken that even they can’t bring themselves to vouch for him in this case. Harry Enten had a piece about that today as well, noting that POTUS was under 80 percent support on coronavirus within the GOP in not one but two polls this week.
That’s what I mean about how silencing the CDC will backfire. It’ll accelerate a collapse in trust even if it succeeds in keeping certain info from becoming public — for the time being, until someone at the CDC inevitably leaks it to the press anyway.