Dr Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s Covid-19 task force coordinator, said in a new interview that she was “always” considering quitting her White House role amid the US’s chaotic response to the pandemic in 2020.
In a new interview airing on Sunday’s Face the Nation, Ms Birx said she was heavily criticised for being seen as an enabler to the former president’s politics.
“I mean, why would you want to put yourself through that every day? Colleagues of mine that I had known for decades … decades, in that one experience, because I was in the White House, decided that I had become this political person, even though they had known me forever,” she said in a preview of the interview.
“I had to ask myself every morning, is there something that I think I can do that would be helpful in responding to this pandemic and it’s something I asked myself every night.”
While Ms Birx said in the interview that she intends to retire in four to six weeks from her current role at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the State Department website said her term ended on 20 January, 2021.
That page has since been removed, but a cached version continues to show her time as the US global Aids coordinator and US special representative for global health diplomacy from 4 April, 2014 to 20 January, 2021.
The confusion over her current role comes after White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Friday if Ms Birx remained part of the coronavirus taskforce.
“It’s an excellent question,” Ms Psaki said during the daily briefing. “I’ll have to circle back on that one.”
While Dr Anthony Fauci was welcomed back into the Biden administration’s Covid team, Dr Birx was criticised for being seen as not pushing back hard enough on Mr Trump’s “disinformation”.
“Birx chastised the press for paying attention to the president musing aloud about injecting bleach, and did not in fact chastise — or even correct in the moment — the president for musing about injecting bleach,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper in response to Dr Birx’s interview.
In August, Nancy Pelosi referenced Dr Birx saying Mr Trump’s advisers were “enabling” disinformation.
“I don’t have confidence in anyone who stands there while the President says ‘Swallow Lysol and it’s going to cure your virus’,” Ms Pelosi said on CNN.
According to the nonpartisan fact-checking organisation PolitiFact, the claim that Mr Trump said people should drink bleach to cure Covid is “mostly false”.
When talking about the effects of ultraviolet light and disinfectant on the virus, Mr Trump said: “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that.”
When asked to clarify, he said: “It wouldn’t be through injections, almost a cleaning and sterilisation of an area.”
PolitiFact concluded that Mr Trump did not specifically recommend ingesting disinfectants, “but he did express interest in exploring whether disinfectants could be applied to the site of a coronavirus infection inside the body, such as the lungs”.
Nevertheless, Dr Birx was said to have chastised media for continuing to cover Mr Trump’s remarks about bleach for an extended period.
“It bothers me that this is still in the news cycle, because I think we’re missing the bigger pieces of what we need to be doing as an American people to continue to protect one another,” she said after several days of coverage.
“As a scientist and a public health official and a researcher, sometimes I worry that we don’t get the information to the American people that they need when we continue to bring up something that was from Thursday night.”
While Dr Fauci has continued to receive near-universal support from both Democrats and Republicans, Dr Birx continues to come under fire.
Most recently, she told Newsy she would retire following the “overwhelming” reaction to not following her own travel guidance when celebrating Thanksgiving with three generations of her family.
“I will have to say, as a civil servant, I will be helpful through a period of time, and then I will have to say, this experience has been a bit overwhelming. It has been very difficult on my family … I think what was done over the last week to my family,” she said.