Trump officials muzzled CDC over church Covid leadership, emails confirm

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Trump White House officials flouted public health advice in May 2020, urging churches to consider virtual services amid the spread of the coronavirus and delivering a change in message desired by the president’s supporters. corresponding Emails from former top officials released by a House panel on Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention submitted its proposed public health guidance for religious communities to the White House on May 21, 2020 for permission to publish. The agency had fired days earlier The virus had reportedly killed three and infected dozens at church events in Arkansas and infected 87 percent of attendees at a Washington state choir rehearsal Health experts had warned that places of worship had become hotspots for virus transmission.

But Trump officials wrote they were frustrated with “problematic” advice the CDC had already released, such as: B. Recommendations that places of worship consider holding virtual or drive-in services, according to emails released Friday by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

“This removes all telechurch suggestions, although personally I will say that drive-through services would sound welcome if I were old and vulnerable (I feel old and vulnerable),” wrote May Davis Mailman, an advocate for White House colleagues on May 21, attaching their own scrubbed version of the CDC guidance to their email.

The subsequently published instructions from CDC did not include recommendations for offering virtual or drive-in options for church services, ministry, youth group meetings, and other traditionally in-person gatherings. Mailman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump officials, such as Kellyanne Conway, who served as former President Donald Trump’s top adviser, and Paul Ray, then-Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, also expressed frustration that the CDC was planning to amend its guidance to expand and add new recommendations.

“I have proposed several passages for deletion,” Ray wrote to colleagues, saying he believes some CDC recommendations “raise concerns about religious freedom” and suggested that the agency only allow publication “on condition that the offensive passages to be deleted,” should allow. The emails released by the House panel do not specify which passages Ray and the other Trump officials wanted removed.

In a statement, Ray defended his efforts to change CDC guidelines.

“Each faith tradition — not the federal government — is in the best position to understand the demands of its own beliefs and therefore to choose from among the many effective means of preventing the spread of the virus those that best align with its beliefs,” Ray wrote . “The proposed changes to this document were designed to protect Americans while respecting their right to worship as they believe they should.”

Although the Trump administration’s efforts to change the CDC’s guidance on religious groups have been previously reported, the emails contain new details about the White House’s efforts to secure a priority for faith communities that provide important support for the president represented Donald Trump. Several religious groups fought public health orders to limit mass gatherings in early 2020 and asked the White House for assistance, with some churches taking their legal challenges to the Supreme Court.

Behind-the-scenes frustrations over the CDC’s guidance for religious groups also fed into White House briefings when Trump on May 22 urged states to allow places of worship to open immediately, while his advisers continued to pressure the CDC’s guidance practiced The health agency then removed its warnings that singing in church choirs could spread the virus, despite earlier findings.

House Democrats have spent months investigating reports by Trump officials interfering with the CDC and other health officials in the early months of the coronavirus response. The House panel released the new documents ahead of a hearing on Friday where the head of the Government Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency, will testify on whether reported political interference has hampered health officials’ efforts to respond to the pandemic.

House Democrats also published part of an interview with Robert Redfield, the former CDC director, who told the panel that the Trump administration has refused to approve his agency’s requests to hold briefings on the pandemic for six months, with few Exceptions, after Nancy Messonnier, who was then a senior CDC official, warned on February 25, 2020 that the spread of the virus in the United States was inevitable. The warning angered Trump, who had been delivering a far more optimistic message, and sparked friction with the White House and Department of Health and Human Services, which sidelined the agency.

“That’s one of my big disappointments … they didn’t clarify our briefings,” Redfield told the panel, arguing that the CDC’s lack of communication has hurt public confidence in the agency.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.), the House Majority Speaker and chairman of the panel, said in a statement that the new documents showed a “disturbing” pattern.

“As today’s new evidence also makes clear, Trump White House officials worked under the direction of the former president to deliberately undermine public health officials’ recommendations and muzzle their ability to communicate clearly with the American public ‘ Clyburn said.

The House panel will hear testimony this morning from Gene L. Dodaro, head of GAO, who released a report last week that concluded public health officials need stronger protections against it political interference.

“To maintain public trust and credibility, these agencies must ensure that these decisions are evidence-based and free from political interference,” the GAO report concluded.

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