Trump administration considering probe of CDC over coronavirus handling: report

The Trump administration is reportedly considering a probe of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seeking to position the institution as responsible for the federal handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Politico reported, citing four senior administration officials.

The evaluation would involve closer scrutiny of state-by-state death tolls to potentially push back on the CDC’s official death count of about 120,000 people in the U.S., according to the publication. Administration aides have also reportedly discussed a narrowing of the agency’s mission or adding more political appointees, 10 current and former senior officials and Republicans close to the White House told Politico, with a goal of streamlining the agency.

Some officials also view the agency as a potential scapegoat for the spread of the virus, but others say this message could be a harder sell than blaming China or the World Health Organization (WHO).

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“WHO is an easy one,” one former administration official told Politico. “It is [a] foreign body in Switzerland. CDC will be tough to create a bogeyman around for the average voter.”

Early polling of the president’s response to the pandemic found majorities approving, but disapproval ticked up in the following months, with an ABC News-Ipsos poll released Sunday finding 58 percent disapproved of his handling of it.

Juliette Kayyem, who worked in the Obama Department of Homeland Security during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, said evaluations of agencies’ handling of a crisis is helpful but that there was no indication the CDC was uniquely unprepared for the coronavirus.

“When the history books are written about this crisis, is anyone actually going to believe that America’s abysmal performance and its high death rate was because of some bureaucratic impediment at the CDC?" Kayyem told Politico. “The core of America's problem is a White House that clearly was not pressed into action in January.

"And every flaw — from CDC and testing, to [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the stockpiles to the supply chain and the states — every systemic problem is rooted in White House malfeasance," she added.

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson told The Hill the department "do[es] not comment on internal deliberations."