Trump believes breakthroughs don’t come fast enough, according to those familiar with the president’s thinking. Trump’s frustrations have led some to wonder if Redfield is on the chopping block, but a Trump aide said they didn’t expect the president to make any major personnel changes before the election.
The ever-looming threat, Trump’s public undermining of the CDC chief, and Redfield’s tendency to join the White House, weigh on CDC staff from top to bottom, staff say. Some have wondered if their work makes a difference; others have even considered stepping back – and if the limp ghosts could hinder the response to a pandemic.
Eight current and former public health officials described an overwhelming environment for CNN with the authorities charged with the president̵
“Morale is as low as I’ve seen it before and we have no faith in our leadership,” said a CDC official. “People are unhappy and it’s a shame because this pandemic is still flying away and we still need a robust public health response.”
Alluding to the discouraged sentiment his agency felt, Redfield registered his disappointment during a Senate hearing on Wednesday with the savage allegations by the late Department of Health and Human Services Michael Caputo that CDC scientists were part of a “deep.” State “are” riot.
“I would add, you know, how disappointed I was personally when people at HHS made comments that they felt there was a deep state at CDC,” Redfield said, calling the comments “offensive.”
“Obviously, people don’t understand the ability to drain energy from people who work around the clock when they are unfairly criticized or unfairly characterized, and that’s really the real harm in all of this,” Redfield said without realizing. that Trump did so too Some government scholars have been slandered as part of a “deep state”.
Health professionals and career officials working on the pandemic response across the administration feel the same pressure and disillusionment as CDC officials.
“I think this has been a growing frustration for months. And now it’s only getting worse,” said Olivia Troye, who resigned as Homeland Security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence last month after working with the coronavirus task force for months would have.
Troye said the endless work of public health experts combined with the presidential and White House undercut had demoralized many of the public health experts she worked with.
“It is incredibly difficult to spend all of your life’s work on a major mission on behalf of the American people and to completely prevent the White House and the people at it from ignoring it,” Troye said. “And it’s not just once, it’s non-stop.”
Redfield’s comments during his testimony in Congress on Wednesday only scratched the surface of the deep discomfort at his own agency, fueled in part by the agency’s control, pressure from Trump, and the casual mistakes that have happened under his watch.
Lately the blows against the CDC have been rapid.
Last month, under the guidance of the White House Test Tsar, the CDC changed its guidelines for coronavirus testing to discourage some asymptomatic individuals from being tested, despite increasing evidence that asymptomatic individuals are spreading the virus. The decision has been sharply criticized by public health experts both inside and outside the administration.
Amid the turmoil, the CDC reversed course last week.
Redfield has also lost the trust of some of his agency’s staff, in part because he has repeatedly given in to White House pressure and public exhortations from the President himself.
Later on Wednesday, Redfield was again contradicted by the White House podium – this time by Atlas. A federal health official said Redfield had “outwardly” expressed no “frustration”.
Just last week, Redfield went back to strong and science-based comments he made about the importance of masks and the timing of a vaccine after Trump publicly contradicted him and said he made a mistake. Some CDC sources said Redfield was careful to adhere to White House policy, while two senior officials labeled Redfield an “ineffective communicator”.
Back on Capitol Hill this week, Redfield was faced with questions over a new controversy: the removal of new airborne virus transmission guidelines that the agency said had been falsely published without proper verification.
“I think the staff are feeling pretty down,” a senior CDC official told CNN. “We pride ourselves on serving the American people and being accused of riot or of not being trustworthy.”
While morale has taken a blow at the agency, the veterans official said they haven’t heard from anyone less committed to doing what’s right and continuing to try to save lives.
But the casual mistakes that are being undermined by the White House and what some have referred to as the “ineffective” Redfield leadership are taking a practical toll and making some CDC officials reluctant to dig into the agency’s incident management structure for the Transforming coronavirus response – previously a coveted rotation – amid concerns about how the response is handled and the futility of some, an official said.
“Why spend a lot of time doing something the government won’t hear or heed,” said the official.
A 14-year-old public health veteran told CNN that she was afraid of going to work every day and that this led her to seek help for her mental health. The employee, who was visibly upset during her interview with CNN, said she was sometimes embarrassed to work for the CDC and had often thought about quitting.
“There’s no compassion, no understanding. It’s a culture that doesn’t complain,” said the public health officer.
CNN’s Jim Acosta contributed to this report.