Dr. Deborah Birx’s Failed Attempt to Flip the Script
Every report we have, from journalists and from first-hand accounts from people who were there, reveal that Dr. Deborah Birx – White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator – had a primary influence on President Donald Trump in his decisions to lockdown the economy. She is culpable for initiating one of the biggest fails in the history of public health, wrecking the lives of countless numbers of people.
Her idea, to which the US president was an early convert, was to mandate extreme measures, ending freedom of association in civic life, in order to contain and perhaps suppress a virus (or save the health system or flatten the curve or stop the spread or…something). It did not work. All over the world, there is no evidence that these lockdowns achieved anything but economic, social, cultural, and mass psychological destruction.
Today she is working not only to evade personal responsibility but to pass the buck onto others who actually worked to repair the damage she created in the most destructive role of her long career in government.
In testimony before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, October 12-13, 2021, she shamelessly told high tales of her own heroism, how actual public-health experts who arrived later tried to undermine her, and how once Trump started ignoring her crankish and radical views, he thereby killed more than a hundred thousand of people.
She testified that if Trump had continued to follow her prescriptions, “we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range.”
Notice the fake precision here, without a shred of evidence. On the other hand, we have vast evidence of the epic failure of lockdowns.
She makes some very serious charges, while evading responsibility for her central role in the egregiously botched response. Birx not only pushed Trump to enact lockdowns. She personally called health officials in every state and demanded that they do the same. And did this for months. They complied based on her position and authority.
Birx spoke at length at the fateful March 16, 2020 press conference – alongside Anthony Fauci (“he was my mentor”) – that announced the lockdowns. She pushed a wholly new and deeply dystopian social system of universal human separation: “we really want people to be separated at this time.”
She got her way. Not only for two weeks, as was initially promised, but for months and finally for 20 months in many places. That the US locked down in March 2020 also inspired many governments around the world to follow this strategy that began in China. Billions around the world have suffered grave harm. And even on the one metric that mattered to her – suppression of this one virus – the whole thing flopped to an extent that was previously unimaginable.
As Scott Atlas has said, it makes sense (in our times when ethics mean next to nothing for public officials) that instead of apologizing that she would want to push the blame on others, simply because she bears so much responsibility for what happened in people’s lives. But rather than admit it, she deflected and blamed others. She even named Atlas himself and says that she stopped attending any meeting where he was present. This was not because she was protesting; it’s because he was up on the science and she was not. She didn’t desire to be embarrassed by that fact.
Let us firmly establish that it was Birx who was most influential in talking Trump into betraying his every instinct. Two Washington Post reporters have documented this in their book Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History. They report that she initially refused the invitation to join the White House Task Force. And why? Here the reporters reveal her politics:
She was also making a political calculation. She had been in government long enough to know how to read the tea leaves. Even though the Democratic primary season was still under way, she believed that Biden could come out on top because he was the safest choice. And if he did win the primary, he could beat Trump. If she were to work in the Trump White House, it could be fatal for her federal career. She wasn’t ready for that.There we go: even before getting to the White House, she was convinced that Trump would not win reelection. And that raises some profound issues concerning her advice.
And what was that advice? The reporters explain the scene in mid March 2020:
[Jared] Kushner immediately called two of his close friends, Adam Boehler and Nat Turner, and asked them to help put together a set of guidelines over the weekend that could provide some kind of national recommendations. Boehler was a former summer roommate of Kushner’s during college and was currently heading a federal institution called the US International Development Finance Corporation. Turner was chief executive of Flatiron Health, a technology and services company that specializes in cancer research. Boehler and Turner burrowed into a room in the basement of the West Wing and started calling people who grasped both the scale of the crisis but also the politics.The group apparently decided that Birx would be the best messenger to convince Trump:
Over that weekend, they put together recommendations and then circulated them with Birx and Fauci. The guidelines were refined further before being presented to Trump in the Oval Office. They wanted to recommend shutting down in-person education at schools. Closing indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Canceling travel. Birx and Fauci saw the guidelines as a crucial pause that would buy them some time to better understand the pandemic. Shutting down flights was not enough, they said; more would have to be done….
If she were to convince the president to shut down the entire country, she was going to have to make a compelling case. She spent a weekend assembling all of the data from Europe that she could get her hands on. She then looked at the logarithmic curves of infections and deaths to try to predict when the United States would begin seeing an exponential growth of cases and fatalities. The data revealed how quickly the virus had moved through Italy, and she knew that it wasn’t isolated there; the Italians were just more efficient at tracking it. If it was moving like that throughout a major European country, she projected, a similar explosion was about to occur in the United States….At that historic and earth-shattering press conference, Birx played a central role. The reporters observe:
At the meeting, Birx walked the president through everything that she was seeing in Europe, forecasting what could happen if the US didn’t act. [Kushner friend Adam] Boehler offered the recommendation for fifteen days of restrictions, the kind of government crackdown that was anathema to every one of Trump’s instincts. But when they finished with the presentation, the first two words out of Trump’s mouth surprised them. “That’s it?” he asked. Trump had thought that they were going to tell him to call in the National Guard and lock people in their homes. He immediately approved their plan. At 3:21 p.m. on March 16, he delivered a speech that he—and many of his advisers—would come to regret.
Trump was reading from notes. The words had been written for him, but he was reading them nonetheless. He had spent the first three years of his presidency stripping back regulations and restrictions, complaining about the “deep state” and government overreach. He was now putting into place the biggest restrictions on Americans’ behavior in the past hundred years. The government’s program was called “15 Days to Slow the Spread.” It was a nationwide shutdown until the end of March, an unprecedented action. Just a few weeks earlier, Trump and his top aides had barely known who Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci were. Now they were teamed up with Jared Kushner and had played a critical role in convincing Trump to shut much of society down.There we have it.
A month later, Trump was getting restless. 15 Days had passed and Trump made an announcement that he wanted to open the country again by Easter, which fell on April 12, 2020. Trump met with advisors including Birx. The reporters go on:
Birx sat in silence, her right leg crossed over her left, staring at the president as the words left his mouth. Her expression betrayed nothing. Her military career had conditioned her to remain impassive while her commanding officer was speaking. But Easter? The idea was a nightmare. She had taken a lead role on the task force just one month earlier, and her influence was already slipping away. She had to try to stop this. Birx knew that the United States hadn’t yet reached the peak of infections, a grim milestone that public health experts didn’t anticipate for several more weeks. The number of reported new infections was doubling every few days; it had gone from just more than one thousand cases on March 16, the day the shutdown had gone into effect, to nearly eleven thousand the day of the virtual town hall. The rate wasn’t slowing down, and the count was artificially low because the United States was still doing so little testing. The fifteen-day shutdown would hardly be enough to seriously hamper the virus’s spread. If Trump reopened the country on Easter, the painful effort would have been for nothing.What did she do about it?
She knew that [Trump] was under pressure to reopen the economy by Easter, something she was determined to stop. So if he was going to agree to shut down the country for another thirty days when everyone was telling him not to, then, sure, she’d need him to be locked into the data—her data. For some time, her gamble paid off. Other task force members and White House aides marveled at the way she managed Trump, who thought she was elegant and liked working with her. She knew how to strike a delicate balance with him: she flattered him and told him a little bit of what he wanted to hear before offering her recommendations….Of course she prevailed yet again:
That Saturday night, just a few days after Trump had declared that he wanted everything to reopen by Easter, Birx and Fauci met with the president in the Yellow Oval Room, an ornate second-floor chamber in the White House’s private residence just inside the Truman Balcony….
Birx and Fauci knew the stakes: either they would convince the president to take drastic action that could save tens of thousands of lives, or they would fail to make their case. Birx sat across from the president, papers in hand. She had printed out her slides so that she could present them as a handout. She had come armed with other analyses and slides in case Trump wasn’t immediately convinced or he had questions that she could answer with more graphics. She hoped that Trump would be able to understand the work she had done and the case she and Fauci were about to make. But with Trump, you never knew what would happen. The doctors began by explaining to him that if he reopened the country now, the fifteen-day shutdown would have been for nothing. There hadn’t been enough time to see the effects of the painful step they had taken. The point of the shutdown had been to “flatten the curve,” which meant to slow down the exponential increase in new cases. The only way to do so, they said, would be through measures such as closing businesses and mandating social distancing so that the health care system wouldn’t face a crush of patients…
Trump knew that the crisis was serious, but thirty days? Was it really necessary? he asked them. Why did Birx think it was necessary? Did she really believe that 100,000 to 200,000 people could still die even if the country shut down? Yes, Birx insisted. Her numbers were not models based on theoretical assumptions, she explained; they were reality-based projections based on what she had learned from the European data….And so on it went, with Fauci and Birx constantly moving the goalposts, sounding the alarm of new cases, urging the president to continue torturing people with lockdowns and closures, and wrecking what had previously been a strong and growing economy, and essentially working to doom his prospects for re-election that she never believed was possible anyway.
Trump was expected to announce how much longer the shutdown would last at the March 29 press conference. White House officials had been debating whether to extend it for another week or two. About twenty-five minutes after Trump first took the podium, he made an announcement that would stun and anger some of his advisers: he was extending the shutdown guidelines until April 30.
This nonsense continued throughout the summer until at last Trump got fed up and started seeking out other advice from people who happened to understand viral dynamics, epidemiology, and public health. The lead person here was Scott Atlas whom she now blames for undermining Trump’s misplace and dangerous confidence that lockdowns could improve health outcomes.
Thus can we see her direct culpability in causing the unprecedented wreckage, and now her attempt to avoid taking responsibility.
The end of her career has an ironic and perhaps inevitable twist. As Jordan Shachtel notes, “Birx infamously resigned in disgrace after she was caught flouting her own guidance, when the longtime government bureaucrat secretly held a large gathering at one of her vacation homes in Delaware. That same week, Birx advised the public not to get together during the Thanksgiving holiday.”
The BBC reported on her thinking concerning why she violated her own edicts:
Explaining her decision to gather with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, she told Newsy: 'My daughter hasn’t left that house in 10 months, my parents have been isolated for 10 months. They’ve become deeply depressed as I’m sure many elderly have as they’ve not been able to see their sons, their granddaughters. My parents have not been able to see their surviving son for over a year. These are all very difficult things.'Deborah Birx bears direct and documented responsibility for imposing these “difficult things” on hundreds of millions of people. She pleaded with us to understand that she had to violate her rules for personal reasons. Now she insists that we blame anyone but herself for outcomes that she knows all too well were her own doing.
No member of Congress should ever sit by and listen to this nonsense without knowledge of the documented history of her personal responsibility for turning the land of the free and the home of the brave into a population of people cowering in their homes, banned from seeing family, with their schools, businesses, and churches shut by governments for months on end. The costs are legion and the damage will be felt for decades.
Reprinted with permission from Brownstone Institute.