Deborah Birx's first meeting with Donald Trump lasted just 30 seconds as he flipped on Fox News, book says

trump deborah birx
Dr. Deborah Birx as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus on April 23, 2020.AP Photo/Alex Brandon
  • Dr. Deborah Birx is out with a tell-all book about her time in the Trump administration.

  • Birx says her first meeting with Trump in March 2020 about COVID-19 lasted only 30 seconds.

  • She failed to impress on Trump that the novel coronavirus was far more serious than the flu.

Dr. Deborah Birx's first meeting with President Donald Trump about COVID-19 lasted only 30 seconds before he lost interest and turned the channel to Fox News, Birx writes in her new memoir.

Birx, a leading public-health expert and diplomat known for her work on HIV/AIDS, was persuaded by Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security advisor at the time, to leave her post at the State Department as the US's global AIDS coordinator to serve as the coordinator of the White House's newly formed coronavirus task force.

Birx's first met with Trump on March 2, 2020, nine days before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By that point, public-health experts across the globe closely following the data on the virus' spread were alarmed.

Birx's goal in that meeting, she writes, was to impress upon Trump the urgency of the situation and to convey that the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 virus, which could be spread largely by those with no symptoms, was nothing like the seasonal flu.

When Birx finally got Trump's attention in the crowded room, things didn't go as she had hoped.

"Mr. President, this is not like the flu. This is far more serious than the flu. We have to shape our response differently," she told Trump, according to the book.

Trump, she writes, flashed a "glib grimace" of a smile before responding: "Well, the people I'm talking to say this isn't going to be any worse than the flu."

"Mr. President, I don't know who are you speaking with, but I have evidence to fully support the conclusion that this outbreak is going to be nothing like the seasonal flu or even pandemic flu. This virus is very deadly," she said, according to the book.

"Well these are good people," he replied, according to Birx. "Smart people. I trust these people. They know what they're saying."

Birx repeated her concerns about the virus, but Trump lost interest.

"His eyes return to his television screens. He reaches for the remote control, and the voice of someone at Fox News enters what passed for a conversation between us," Birx writes. "I don't hear the rest. Someone takes a few steps toward me and gestures toward the door. I've had less than thirty seconds to speak with the president."

Birx says other presidents she's worked for, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, "had the ability to shift gears and direct their focused attention in a way President Trump has not."

"I'm not going to get him to change," she writes. "I have to change my approach. Experience has taught me that you have to meet people where they are."

In the book, "Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, COVID-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It's Too Late," published on Tuesday, Birx describes her tumultuous experience on the White House COVID-19 task force and suggests the Trump administration's handling of the virus contained numerous flaws and missteps.

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