(AP) — Former President Trump and other White House officials were “distracted” by the 2020 election and prioritized campaigning over any COVID-19 mitigation strategies, the administration’s former coronavirus advisor Deborah Birx told House investigators earlier this month.
In excerpts of closed-door testimony conducted Oct. 12-13 to the House Select Coronavirus Subcommittee shared with The Hill, Birx said she felt the White House focus on campaigning took people’s time away, and distracted them from focusing on the pandemic.
“I felt like the White House had gotten somewhat complacent through the campaign season, and I wanted to make sure that as soon as everyone was back the day after the election, that people would comprehensively reengage,” Birx told the panel.
Birx said the administration’s resistance to promoting basic public health mitigation resulted in more than 100,000 avoidable deaths. She said former President Trump did not do everything he could to try to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
“I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range,” Birx said.
More than 735,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, including more than 300,000 since President Biden took office.
Administration officials were not present at the White House, and nobody was holding consistent COVID meetings, Birx said. Instead, they were traveling across the country to campaign.
“They were actively campaigning and not as present in the White House as previously,” Birx said.
During the summer of 2020, Birx left Washington and began meeting with state and local leaders to discuss mask-wearing, physical distancing and other mitigation measures she said Trump did not want her speaking about to the American public from the White House podium.
Birx told the House panel that the White House was not in sync with its messaging, and she was frustrated that her warnings continued to be ignored.
“Do I think that we could have done more on unified messaging coming out of the White House? Do I think we could have done more on — very early on showing the efficacy of masks? Yes. And I think that would have decreased the confusion,” Birx said.
Birx did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Birx was one of Trump’s top health advisers. Since leaving the administration, she has expressed regret for how she handled her role as head of the White House coronavirus task force and has accused former administration officials of censoring her warnings about the severity of the pandemic.
Birx drew criticism last year for praising Trump’s understanding of the data on the pandemic as well as her failure to push back in spring of last year when Trump made false claims about people injecting disinfectant as a means to treat the virus.
Her interview comes amid the House panel’s investigation into political interference in the pandemic response from the Trump administration.
“President Trump’s prioritization of politics, contempt for science, and refusal to follow the advice of public health experts undermined the nation’s ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus crisis,” the panel’s chairman Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a statement. “The Trump White House’s prioritization of election year politics over the pandemic response — even as cases surged last fall — is among the worst failures of leadership in American history.”