- President Trump threatened to fire a top CDC official after her blunt warnings that COVID-19 would become a pandemic caused the stock market to plunge, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Trump was on a state visit to India when Dr. Nancy Messonnier sounded the alarm about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak during a February 26 press conference.
- The Journal reported that Trump then called Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on his trip back and threatened to oust Messonnier from the CDC altogether.
- While Trump did not end up firing Messonnier, The New York Times reported that the entire episode effectively killed any efforts to persuade Trump to take decisive action to mitigate the virus.
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President Donald Trump threatened to fire Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after her blunt warnings about the severity of COVID-19 caused the stock market to plunge in February, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Many of the details on the episode surrounding Messonnier were also reported in a lengthy New York Times investigation into all the times Trump brushed aside warnings of the severity of the coronavirus crisis, failed to act, or was delayed by significant infighting and mixed messages from his aides at the White House.
The bulk of The Wall Street Journal’s Wednesday report focused on the role of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in directing the Trump administration’s coronavirus response before he was pushed aside after a series of crucial missteps he made — in addition to his clashing with Trump.
Both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that the defining event that led to Azar’s role being diminished was when a top CDC official broke from the administration’s otherwise optimistic messaging on the coronavirus.
Trump was on a state visit to India when Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, publicly sounded the alarm about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in a February 26 press conference, saying that the outbreak would soon become a pandemic.
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Messonnier said.
The Times reported that Trump spent the plane ride stewing in anger over both Messonnier’s comments and the resulting plummet of the stock market. He called Azar “raging that Dr. Messonnier had scared people unnecessarily,” The Times said.
Trump also threatened to fire her from the CDC altogether, according to The Journal.
That day, Azar tried to fix some of the damage by giving a follow-up press conference, but Trump was still incensed.
While Trump did not end up firing Messonnier, The Times reported that the entire episode effectively ended any efforts to persuade Trump to take decisive action to mitigate the virus’ spread and led to Azar being sidelined in favor of Vice President Mike Pence.
After three crucial weeks, Trump finally announced nationwide stay-at-home and social-distancing measures on March 16.
In the time between Messonnier’s remarks and mid-March, the number of confirmed cases in the US surged from just 15 to over 4,200.