Dr. Birx said she had a ‘very uncomfortable’ phone call with Trump after she did a CNN interview about the pandemic last year

trump deborah birx
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington.

  • Dr. Deborah Birx, who worked under Trump, recounted an “uncomfortable” conversation with him last year.
  • Birx said the conversation happened after she appeared on CNN and provided “clarity” about the pandemic.
  • The interview is part of an upcoming CNN documentary about the pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said she last year had an “uncomfortable” conversation with former President Donald Trump after she spoke frankly during a cable news appearance.

Birx comments come in a preview of the upcoming documentary about the pandemic titled “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CNN.

“It was a CNN report in August that got horrible pushback,” Birx said in the clip published Sunday by CNN. “That was a very difficult time, because everybody in the White House was upset with that interview and the clarity that I brought about the epidemic.

Read more: Democrats want to raise taxes this year. They’ll have a better shot in 2025.

“I got called by the President,” she added. “It was very uncomfortable, very direct, and very difficult to hear.”

As CNN noted, Birx in August appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and offered a critical perspective on the state of the pandemic in the US at that time. In the interview, Birx said that the pandemic in August 2020 differed from a surge earlier in the year because the virus had infiltrated rural communities.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” she said at the time. “It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as equal urban areas.”

When asked by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta if she felt threatened by the former president, she repeated the exchange had been a “very uncomfortable conversation.”

Birx told Gupta she knew she was “being watched.”

“Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep so that they could, I guess, remove me from the task force,” she said.

Trump had a rocky relationship with his coronavirus taskforce advisers, as he publicly disregarded their advice, though he more publicly sparred with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci has previously spoken out about what it was like working with the former president and said working under Biden was “liberating” in comparison. Trump in an interview in March bragged about having ignored Fauci’s recommendations.

“I thought rather than firing him, you know, I listened to him, but I didn’t do what he said because frankly, his record is not a good record,” Trump said on “The Truth with Lisa Boothe” podcast.

In an interview with The New York Times published in January, Fauci said Trump would sometimes call him after he gave an interview and ask why he hadn’t given a more “positive” outlook on the pandemic.

In a recently published clip from the forthcoming CNN documentary, Birx said every COVID-19 death in the US that occurred after the first 100,000 could’ve been mitigated after the first surge.

As of Sunday, more than 549,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, according to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University. The US reached 100,000 COVID-19 deaths by the end of May 2020.

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Dr. Deborah Birx says every American COVID-19 death after the first 100,000 could’ve been mitigated, but a Democratic lawmaker says she’s to blame for ‘enabling’ Trump

Deborah Birx
Some accused Birx of being “complicit” by not pushing back against Trump.

  • Dr. Deborah Birx said thousands of Americans died preventable COVID-19 deaths.
  • During a CNN interview, she said everything after the first surge could’ve been mitigated.
  • But some people, including Rep. Ted Lieu, responded by accusing her of enabling Trump.
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Dr. Deborah Birx, a former member of the White House coronavirus response team, said thousands of Americans died preventable COVID-19 deaths and that everything after the initial surge could’ve been mitigated.

Birx was speaking during an interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the network’s upcoming coronavirus documentary that airs Sunday.

A clip of Birx’s comments was shared on Saturday.

“I look at it this way: The first time we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge,” said Birx, who served under the Trump administration. “All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”

According to Birx, more than 80% of American deaths could have been mitigated: At this point, nearly 550,000 people in the US have died from COVID-19, per Johns Hopkins University data. The US reached 100,000 deaths by the end of May 2020.

Read more: Insider found 20 governors haven’t gotten their COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s who – and why.

Birx was a controversial member of the coronavirus task force and was often criticized for not explicitly pushing back on President Donald Trump when he contradicted the advice of public health officials and medical experts on preventing coronavirus transmission.

Some of that criticism resurfaced Saturday as the clip of her CNN interview made the rounds on Twitter.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who also served as an impeachment manager against Trump in January, accused Birx of being partly responsible for preventable deaths.

“The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers,” Lieu said in a tweet. “And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him.”

Many others on Twitter chimed in as well, accusing Birx of being complicit. Some also recirculated an old clip from March 2020 in which Birx praised Trump as being “attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data.”

She has since said she liked working on the road under the Trump administration because she wasn’t “censored” like she was at the White House.

Another doctor interviewed by CNN Saturday said he agreed with Birx about the preventable COVID-19 deaths, but that it “happened on her watch.”

“She was the White House pandemic coordinator. This was her job,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University said. “And if things weren’t being done to her liking, her duty was to stand up and speak up.”

As for how many deaths were preventable, Reiner compared the US to Germany, a country he says had a “mediocre” pandemic response. And yet if the US had a similar number of deaths per capita as Germany did, only 300,000 Americans would be dead.

“A quarter of a million Americans would be alive today,” he said.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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Deborah Birx says she ‘always’ considered quitting as she faced attacks from within the Trump administration and the science community

Deborah Birx
  • Deborah Birx says she always considered quitting while working on Trump’s Coronavirus task force. 
  • Birx faced criticism from the science community and from Trump for her work. 
  • She says her role and the pandemic were politicized, thanks in large part to Trump. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus task force said she always considered quitting. 

“I mean, why would you want to put yourself through that every day?” Birx said in a clip of an interview with Margaret Brennan on CBS News’ “Face The Nation.”

Birx said her job and the pandemic had been politicized.

“Colleagues of mine that I’d known for decades – decades – in that one experience, because I was in the White House, decided that I had become this political person, even though they had known me forever,” she said. “I had to ask myself every morning, ‘Is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic?’ And it’s something I asked myself every night.”

Birx, a well-established public official best known for her decades of HIV/AIDS research, had faced criticism for not defending Trump when he made scientifically and medically inaccurate statements. 

Trump’s unscientific approach to the COVID-19 pandemic included resisting the use of masks, and even at one point suggesting people could ingest disinfectants to cure themselves of the virus. 

Birx also faced criticism after it was learned that in the summer of 2020, she played a key role in pressuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release guidance for schools to reopen despite surging coronavirus cases.

That revelation came as the CDC walked back its cautious guidance on reopening schools, after criticism from Trump.

Read more: Trump’s threat to bolt from the Republican Party could spark a serious legal fight over his ‘gold mine’ list of supporters who have helped fill the GOP coffers with billions of dollars

Trump eventually also became displeased with Birx after she raised alarms about surging cases later in the summer

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Birx “enabled” Trump and has not done enough to confront his misguided claims about the coronavirus, Trump attacked Birx claiming she was only speaking of the surging cases to appease Pelosi, Insider previously reported. 

“So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics,” Trump said in a tweet on August 3. “In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”

Birx again would counter Trump’s false notion that the US would turn a corner with COVID-19 cases in November, warning that without “much more aggressive action” the pandemic could enter the “most deadly phase” yet. 

Last month, Birx announced her plan to retire, but said she was open to helping President Joe Biden’s administration.

So far, close to 25 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the US, and at least 414,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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White House coronavirus advisor Deborah Birx bucked her own guidance and traveled during Thanksgiving holiday weekend

Deborah Birx
Dr. Deborah Birx.

  • Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the members of White House coronavirus task force, traveled during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, despite warnings from health officials to avoid doing so. 
  • Around the time of Thanksgiving, Birx had been among the health officials giving such warnings to the American public. 
  • But Birx skirted the guidance and took a trip to Delaware during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the Associated Press reported.
  • There, she mingled indoors and had a meal with family members who live in different households.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, traveled and saw some members of her extended family during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend despite urging Americans to avoid doing the same. 

Birx went to Delaware the day after Thanksgiving, the Associated Press reported. There, she spent time with her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. In a statement to the AP, Birx said these were people who are part of her “immediate household.” But they do not all live in the same home. 

Leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, Birx was one of the health officials urging Americans to sacrifice traveling this year to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“It looked like things were starting to improve in our northern plain states, and now with Thanksgiving, we’re worried that all of that will be reversed,” Birx said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” People should “take it upon yourself to be restrictive” and selective about the ways they pass their holiday time, she said. 

“If your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week,” Birx added. 

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment from Business Insider asking if Birx had received a test upon returning from her travels.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warned against traveling during this holiday season. Still, a whopping 1.1 million Americans traveled in airplanes on the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend. 

The CDC also discourages indoor interaction with people from different households. “People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households,” a CDC webpage states.

Birx told the AP she had not gathered with her family in Delaware “for the purpose of celebrating Thanksgiving.” Instead, she said, she went to prepare the Delaware home ahead of a potential sale. But Birx and the other family members did share a meal together. 

One of her relatives complained about her travel, telling the AP that Birx chose to skirt the guidance and it’s caused “family friction.” 

“She cavalierly violated her own guidance,” said Kathleen Flynn, the sister of a brother married to Birx’s daughter. 

Meanwhile, Birx’s father, Richard, defended her. “Dr. Birx is very conscientious and a very good doctor and scientist from everything I can see,” he told the AP. 

Birx has been trying to secure a spot in the incoming Biden administration. She’s reached out to various Biden aides to make a case for herself. The Biden transition team did not immediately return a request for comment. 

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