Trump believes the findings aren’t coming quickly enough, according to people familiar with the president’s thinking. Trump’s frustrations have led some to wonder if Redfield is on the block, but a Trump adviser said he doesn’t expect the president to make major staff changes ahead of the election.
The looming threat, Trump’s public weakening of the CDC chief, and Redfield’s tendency to bow to the White House are putting CDC staff to the test, from top to bottom, employees say. Some have wondered if their work is making a difference and others have even considered stepping down and whether falling spirits could stand in the way of the pandemic response.
Eight current and former public health officials have described for CNN an overwhelming environment at coronavirus response agencies induced by a president intent on contradicting critical public health messages and downplaying the virus threat, politically motivated pressure from the White House and unfounded accusations by politicians that government scientists are part of an unfair “deep state”
“Morale is as low as I have ever seen and we have no confidence in our leadership,” said a CDC official. “People are unhappy and it’s a shame because this pandemic is still flying away and we still need a solid public health response.”
In a nod to the discouraged mood surrounding his agency, Redfield recorded his disappointment during a Senate hearing Wednesday with wild allegations that CDC scientists are part of a “deep state” involved by Michael Caputo. , spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services. “sedition.”
“I want to add, you know, how disappointed I was personally when the people at HHS made comments that they felt there was a deep state at the CDC,” Redfield said, calling the comments “offensive.”
“Obviously people don’t understand the ability to suck energy from people who work 24/7 when they are unfairly criticized or unfairly characterized, and that’s really the real harm in all of this,” Redfield said, not noticing. that Trump also vilified some government scientists for being part of a “deep state”.
Healthcare experts and career officials working on pandemic response across the administration are feeling the same pressure and disillusionment as CDC officials.
“I think this has been growing frustration for months. And now it’s only getting worse,” said Olivia Troye, who stepped down last month as National Security Advisor to Vice President Mike Pence after months of working with the task force on the coronavirus.
Troye said the endless work of public health experts combined with price cuts by the President and the White House left many of the public health experts he worked with demoralized.
“It is incredibly difficult to spend a lifetime’s work on a bigger mission for the American people and for the White House and the people at the top to ignore it completely,” Troye said. “And it’s not just once, it’s non-stop.”
Redfield’s comments during his Congressional testimony on Wednesday only scratched the surface of the deep unease within his own agency that was fueled in part by how he led the agency, bent on Trump’s pressures and non-mistakes. convicts that happened under his watch.
Recently, the hits on the CDC have come at a rapid pace.
Last month – under the direction of the White House Testing Czar – the CDC changed its coronavirus testing guidelines to dissuade some asymptomatic individuals from getting tested despite mounting evidence of asymptomatic individuals spreading the virus. The decision was heavily criticized by public health experts both inside and outside the administration.
Amid the turmoil, the CDC reversed course last week.
Redfield also lost the trust of some of his agency’s staff in part because he repeatedly succumbed to pressure from the White House and public admonitions from the president himself.
Later on Wednesday, Redfield was again contradicted by the White House podium, this time by Atlas. A federal health official said Redfield did not express any “frustration” “outwardly”.
Just last week, Redfield returned strong, scientifically-based comments on the importance of masks and the timing for a vaccine after Trump publicly contradicted it and said he made a mistake. Some CDC sources said Redfield was careful to stick to the White House policy, while two senior officials called Redfield an “ineffective communicator.”
Back on Capitol Hill this week, Redfield was faced with questions about a new controversy: the removal of new guidelines on airborne transmission of the virus that the agency said had been mispublished without being properly revised.
“I think the staff are feeling pretty down,” a veteran CDC official told CNN. “We are proud to serve the American people and to be accused of sedition or lack of trust weighs on us.”
While the agency’s morale took a hit, the veteran official said, they hadn’t heard anyone express less commitment to doing the right thing and continuing to try to save lives.
But the unforced errors, undermined by the White House and what some call Redfield’s “ineffective” leadership are taking a practical toll, making some CDC officials reluctant to rotate into the agency’s incident management structure for response to the coronavirus – previously a coveted rotation – due to concerns about how the response is being handled and a sense of futility among some, an official said.
“Why spend a lot of time trying to do something the government will not listen to or pay attention to,” this official said.
A 14-year public health professional told CNN that she felt anxious to go to work every day and this prompted her to get help with her mental health. The co-worker, who was visibly upset during her interview with CNN, said she sometimes felt embarrassed about working at the CDC and often thought about quitting.
“There is no compassion, no understanding. It is a culture of ‘not complaining’,” the public health official said.
CNN’s Jim Acosta contributed to this report.