Pete Navarro, President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser, knocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday over its response to the coronavirus crisis, blaming the federal public health agency for the country’s slow rollout of tests.
Asked during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether Trump has confidence in the CDC to lead during the pandemic, Navarro told host Chuck Todd that’s a question for the president ― not him.
“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,” Navarro said. “Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.”
Navarro then pivoted to discussing the need to reopen the U.S. economy, noting that high levels of unemployment can lead to “more suicides, depression and drug abuse.”
“Women haven’t been getting mammograms or cervical examinations for cancer,” Navarro added. “We haven’t been able to do other procedures for the heart or the kidneys. And that’s going to kill people as well.”
The CDC acknowledged last month that contamination at two of its laboratories in Atlanta rendered some of the country’s first coronavirus tests ineffective.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar defended the CDC when asked if he takes responsibility for the agency’s missteps during an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“We were confronting a situation here that’s completely novel,” Azar said. “There has never been a national, immediate testing regime across public and private sectors. We have had to literally build this from the ground up.”
Host Margaret Brennan pressed Azar to answer whether he took any responsibility for problems the CDC has admitted having. He acknowledged that the contamination “prevented some of the scale-up for a couple weeks.”
“But that was never going to be the backbone of … broad mass testing in the United States,” Azar added. He said the U.S. traditionally relies on the private sector to “scale up” the testing capacity during an outbreak.
Azar rejected Navarro’s claim that the CDC “let the country down” when asked to respond to the trade adviser’s comments Sunday. “I don’t believe the CDC let this country down,” he said. “I believe the CDC serves an important public health role, and what was always critical was to get the private sector to the table.”
Though Trump has patted himself on the back for his handling of the pandemic, a Morning Consult poll conducted last month showed 51% of voters disapprove of his coronavirus response. The president and his allies have blamed any virus response shortcomings in the U.S. on various entities, including governors, the WHO, China and former President Barack Obama.
Medical experts have faulted the Trump administration for not taking the virus’s threat seriously early on. Dr. Rick Bright, an immunologist and the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, testified before Congress that he warned top U.S. officials about the virus as early as January but no urgent action was taken.
Bright has alleged he was ousted as the head of BARDA for resisting Trump’s pressure to push the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.
It’s typical for the U.S. to develop its own diagnostic tests, though Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert on the White House’s coronavirus task force, said in March that it would have been “nice to have” tests from WHO as a backup to the CDC’s tests.