Curious, but not just for the statement but also the reaction to it — and why the question got asked in the first place. Chuck Todd accurately introduced Peter Navarro on yesterday’s Meet the Press as “the director of trade and manufacturing policy inside the White House,” mainly focused on China. That topic certainly has lots of potential on a Sunday morning talk show, especially with new efforts to roll back supply chains from China to the US.

Instead, Todd focuses on COVID-19, which definitely has some connection to trade and manufacturing. However, he also asks Navarro about the CDC and Donald Trump’s confidence in it, which isn’t at all part of Navarro’s portfolio. In fact, Navarro at first tells Todd that “you should ask the president that question, not me,”but then proceeded to answer it anyway:

CHUCK TODD: I want to ask you quickly about the CDC and ask you whether the president has confidence in the CDC. It does seem as if the initial guidelines, they didn’t want them put out. They put down very limited guidelines with more detailed ones coming later. CDC hasn’t been able to give a briefing now in over a month. Does the president have confidence in the CDC as our lead, as our lead on this pandemic?

PETER NAVARRO: Well, I’d say two things about that. First of all, you should ask the president that question, not me. But early on in this crisis, the CDC which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back. But going forward with these guidelines, the important thing to understand here for the American people is this, opening up this economy is not a question of lives versus jobs. The fact of the matter is and what President Trump realized early on is that if you lock people down, you may save lives directly from the “China Virus”. But you indirectly, you’re going to kill a lot more people. And why do I say that? We know statistically based on our experience with the China trade shock in the 2000s that unemployment creates more suicides, depression and drug abuse. But we also know this in this crisis, as we’ve basically locked down our hospitals for everything but COVID, women haven’t been getting mammograms or cervical examinations for cancer. We haven’t been able to do other procedures for the heart or the kidneys. And that’s going to kill people as well. So if you contrast like this complete lock down where some of the people in the medical community want to just run and hide until the virus is extinguished, that’s going to not only take a huge toll on the American economy it’s going to kill many more people than the virus, the “China Virus” ever would.

The Washington Post reported this as evidence that tensions are rising between the CDC and the White House, which may be true. However, Congress has also been looking hard at the CDC, and the Post never quite gets around to acknowledging that Navarro’s statement about blowing the testing was accurate:

Early on, the F.D.A., which oversees laboratory tests, sent Dr. Timothy Stenzel, chief of in vitro diagnostics and radiological health, to the C.D.C. labs to assess the problem, several officials said. He found an astonishing lack of expertise in commercial manufacturing and learned that nobody was in charge of the entire process, they said.

Problems ranged from researchers entering and exiting the coronavirus laboratories without changing their coats, to test ingredients being assembled in the same room where researchers were working on positive coronavirus samples, officials said. Those practices made the tests sent to public health labs unusable because they were contaminated with the coronavirus, and produced some inconclusive results.

This is not new information either. News of the contamination goes back more than two months, before the US had to go into lockdown without the kind of testing capacity to get us out of it. Even at that point, as Axios reported in early Marc, the contamination was only one of a number of ways in which the CDC had appeared to fumble the COVID-19 response:

The big question: It was not immediately clear if or how possible contamination in the Atlanta lab played a role in delays or problems with testing. Nor was it clear how significant or systemic the contamination concerns may be; whether it was a one-time issue that’s easily resolved, or a broader concern involving protocols, safeguards or leadership.

Behind the scenes: The FDA official who visited the Atlanta lab, Timothy Stenzel, is the director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health.

  • About a week ago, when the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar was under extreme pressure over the delays in getting coronavirus testing kits to market, Stenzel traveled to Atlanta to help troubleshoot whatever technical problems might have been occurring with the tests.
  • Stenzel was alarmed by the procedures he witnessed in the Atlanta laboratory and raised concerns with multiple CDC officials, per a source familiar with the situation in Atlanta.
  • Stenzel is a highly-regarded scientist and diagnostics expert. He was on the ground in Atlanta to deal with technical issues and happened to stumble upon the inappropriate procedures and possible contaminants. He is not a laboratory inspector and thus was not charged with producing an inspection report on the lab conditions.
  • But he raised the concerns and they have been taken seriously and risen to the highest levels of the U.S. government.

At that time, the White House ordered a complete review of the CDC’s actions and procedures, as Axios also reported. The contamination turned out to be from the virus itself, and the delay in working with the private sector lost several weeks — at least — in development of effective testing. None of this is news, nor is the White House’s unhappiness with the CDC response.

Even so, CNN still called this “remarkable,” but at least noted that Navarro’s statement was essentially correct. In fact, Navarro didn’t say anything in this clip that CNN and other media outlets hadn’t already reported — and blamed on the Trump administration — before:

The only thing extraordinary is Navarro’s opining on issues outside of his own portfolio. He should have stuck to his first impulse and told Todd to ask Trump himself — or better yet, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, to whom the CDC reports. Face the Nation actually asked the right person … and got the company line. “What problem did the CDC have?” Azar asked Margaret Brennan when she brought up Navarro’s comments. Er ….