WASHINGTON – Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House's response to the nation's worsening coronavirus crisis, has achieved an unusual feat: both President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are mad at her.
Pelosi has said in televised interviews over the past two days that she's unhappy with Birx for not doing more to stand up to the president when he publicly touts his administration's response to the pandemic or endorses unproven remedies to coronavirus.
Pelosi told CNN Monday that she didn't have "any confidence" in Birx, saying she has "enabled" Trump and has not done enough to set the record straight on his faulty medical claims.
For months, Trump has been hailing his administration's handling of the crisis despite a growing death toll. The president also has promoted discredited treatments, such as the White House Coronanvirus Task Force news conference in April when he suggested sunlight or disinfectants as possible cures for the virus.
At the same time, Trump accused Birx on Twitter of taking "the bait" by saying on a Sunday talk show the virus is now "extraordinarily widespread," a message that could be seen as undercutting White House efforts to tamp down panic about the pandemic.
At a White House news conference Monday evening, Trump said he just spoken to Birx in his office and told her he thought the country was "doing very well" tackling the pandemic. He went on to chide Pelosi for trying to take advantage of Birx.
"Nancy Pelosi has treated her very badly," the president told reporters.
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. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2020
The criticism from both sides flew as the pandemic has now infected more than 4.6 million Americans and killed about 155,000 since March.
Speaking Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Birx acknowledged that the Trump administration's efforts to contain the virus had not succeeded.
"What we are seeing today is different from March and April," she said. "It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas."
Birx, 64, has been a key face of the administration's response to the coronavirus. A well-respected physician, she was brought onboard after a stint as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator under President Obama.
For months, she has been able to navigate her role without much criticism from Trump or his Democratic critics. At one point, her name was floated as a potential replacement for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar when rumors surfaced that Trump might remove him.
Asked Sunday about Pelosi's criticism, Birx said she has "tremendous respect for the speaker." But Birx also said she's been blunt in her assessments of the pandemic.
"I have never been called Pollyannish or non-scientific or non-data-driven," she told CNN. "And I will stake my 40-year career on those fundamental principles of utilizing data to really implement better programs to save more lives.”
Former colleagues and supporters defended Birx, who has been criticized by some of Trump's allies but never as directly as the president did Monday.
"She's never had this experience in her career," said Stephen Morrison, a public health expert who knows Birx from his time serving in the Clinton administration. "It's unprecedented."
Pelosi's criticism of Birx stemmed from her "collapse of trust and confidence" in the White House's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which now extended to Birx, said Morrison, who directs the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
"It's a signal of a kind of deterioration of the environment here," he told USA TODAY, referring to the politics of the pandemic response. But "if she were to depart, things would deteriorate even more."
Katy Talento, a Trump health policy adviser who left the White House last year, said Trump's tweet was not an attack on Birx and was more of a response to Pelosi's remarks.
"I think it's understandable that he would be frustrated that Speaker Pelosi and her ilk would be trying to misuse Dr. Birx's is assessments ... to criticize the administration's response," Talento said. Talento worked with Birx on implementing and then continuing President George W. Bush-era legislation known as PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).
"I think it speaks very highly of her that, you know, we're months into this epidemic, and this is the first time there's been any misunderstanding about her," she said.
Birx is not the first White House Coronavirus Task Force member with whom Trump has clashed. Anthony Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has contradicted the president on some pandemic-related controversies, drawing criticism from Trump.
Asked Monday about Fauci's comments about hydroxychloroquine, Trump said, "I don't agree with Fauci on everything." Trump has promoted the anti-malarial drug as a COVID-19 treatment even though experts including Fauci say there are no scientifically valid studies that provide it's effective.
"I like him. But we disagree on things," Trump said.
The task force member charged with coordinating the U.S. testing effort said Sunday that the nation needs to "move on" from the debate over hydroxychloroquine.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, said on NBC News' "Meet the Press" that "from a public health standpoint, at first, hydroxychloroquine looked very promising" but at "this point in time, there's been five randomized control, placebo-controlled trials that do not show any benefit to hydroxychloroquine."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus czar blasted by Trump, Pelosi