Peter Navarro, director of trade and industrial policy and director of the White House National Trade Council, right, speaks to a staff member following a television interview on Friday, May 15, 2020 at the White House in Washington D.C. (Stefani Reynolds/CNP/Abaca Press/TNS)
Photo: Stefani Reynolds/CNP/TNS
Photo: Stefani Reynolds/CNP/TNS

The Jolt: White House official says CDC ‘let the country down’

The federal agency that most people simply call the CDC has a workforce of more than 21,000 worldwide, but more than two-thirds of them call Atlanta home.

And they’re not feeling the love.

We told you Friday that an ancient and revered British medical journal had issued a blistering editorial over the Trump administration’s sidelining of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during this pandemic. (We always leave out that “prevention” part, but it is essential – or has been -- to the CDC’s international reputation.)

One sign of estrangement has been the rejection by the White House of guidelines drawn up by the CDC for communities that want to shift from a shelter-in-place policy. The administration thought the requirements were too strict.

On Sunday morning, a ranking member of the Trump team confirmed the tension. From the Washington Post:

Speaking on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” [White House trade adviser Peter] Navarro sharply criticized the CDC over its production of a flawed coronavirus test kit that contributed to a nationwide delay in testing.

“Early on in this crisis, the CDC — which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space — really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro said. “Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.”

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose agency oversees it, defended the CDC against the criticism. Again from the Post:

“I don’t believe the CDC let this country down,” Azar said when pressed repeatedly on Navarro’s comments. “I believe the CDC serves an important public health role. And what was always critical was to get the private sector to the table [on testing].”

On a Sunday editorial page of the AJC, the father-daughter team of Dr. Mark L. Rosenberg, an epidemiologist, infectious disease physician and psychiatrist, and Julie Rosenberg, deputy director of the Global Health Delivery Project at Harvard, defended the CDC. A taste:

Science does not serve just Red states or Blue states. All businesses need evidence-based guidance on when to reopen and how to move forward, and they can benefit from CDC’s unbiased guidance.

The benefit of this function being held within government is that these functions do not directly generate profits, so the work can be performed using objective and high-quality universal standards the public can trust.

CDC can also help with the coordinated mobilization and allocation of resources. Strengthening our capacity in health care and public health will strengthen our capacity to put evidence-based, science-driven programs and policies into action.

CDC has not always shined during this pandemic. It did not perform well in quickly developing a test for infection and it has misspoken at times and made some mistakes. But our global community needs science more now than ever before.

We need to know the truth.

On the same page, members of the National Academy of Medicine from Emory University have a letter arguing for the CDC’s “scientific independence and unstifled voice.”

***

Former state lawmaker Beth Beskin is demanding that incumbent Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel promise that he won’t quit his job if she beats him on June 9. Because if he does, she argues, her victory could be disappeared.

The challenge came after the high court upheld the decision by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to erase another Supreme Court contest, for the seat now occupied by Keith Blackwell. Blackwell has sent a letter of resignation to Gov. Brian Kemp -- but it doesn’t go into effect until Nov. 18.

Even so, the court ruled last week, a future resignation can be treated as an actual one -- giving the governor the right to appoint a replacement. The electoral contest for the seat is shifted to 2022. Here’s what Beskin told the Daily Report, a Georgia legal journal, a day later:

“I think the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday raises the very real specter that a losing judge could resign after the election but before the end of his or her term and defeat the will of the voters by allowing the governor to support a successor,” said Beskin, who fought unsuccessfully to reinstate the election.

“Under this ruling, I could win my election against Justice Bethel on June 9, and that result could be completely erased if he then chose to resign and allow Gov. Kemp to appoint his successor,” she said.

***

The Republican-on-Republican feud between U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins has taken an even sharper turn.

On Friday, we told you that former congressman Lynn Westmoreland -- a close friend of Collins who insists he’s neutral in the race -- called for a “kitchen table” conversation of GOP elders to discuss whether Loeffler needed to withdraw from the Nov. 3, all-comers contest to fill out the remaining two years of Johnny Isakson’s term. 

Some fringier elements of the party have taken up that banner. The hard-right Georgia Gun Owners called on Loeffler to resign over the weekend, saying on Facebook over the weekend she “isn’t getting the job done.”

“... Bow out, and let someone take over who will publicly take the fight to the anti-gun Democrats who threaten our entire country,” the group wrote. 

Loeffler’s campaign isn’t shrinking from the fight. It launched a new website Monday mocking Collins and his “15 year career in politics with no accomplishments.” The sweetener: It used the domain dougcollinsforsenate.com.

Under the endorsement tab, it lists one name: Stacey Abrams. “The Collins/Abrams relationship is so strong that the failed gubernatorial candidate included Collins as a character in her romance novel, Reckless,” it said.

Another sign the Georgia race for U.S. Senate is polarizing down-ticket Republicans: Ethan Underwood, a candidate for Georgia’s 9th District, dispatched a mailer that shows him standing next to Collins.

“The only candidate with the courage to endorse Doug Collins for U.S. Senate,” read the mailer, which describes the exiting Gainesville congressman a “national hero.” 

***

Joe Biden’s campaign has circled Georgia among Republican-controlled battleground states it intends to contest in 2020. Sen. David Perdue, also up for election in November, is urging him to give it his best shot. 

After Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said Friday that the former vice president will target Arizona, Georgia and Texas as competitive states in November to flip after decades in the GOP column.

But she put a particular emphasis on Arizona, saying the fast-changing state is at the top of the list. Arizona hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996; Georgia hasn’t since 1992. 

Perdue, who has repeatedly called the 2018 vote a “wakeup call,” outlined a familiar line of attack on Monday. He said Biden and his “radical Democrat allies” are trying to “push their socialist big government agenda on working families.”

***

Today is the start of early voting ahead of the June 9 primary here in Georgia. Although state leaders have encourage voters to use mail-in ballots, early voting is still an option for those who prefer vote in person.

Come prepared to stand six feet away from others in line, the AJC’s Mark Niesse reports, and there will be lots of hand sanitizer on hand while poll workers wear masks and gloves. Certain precincts will also provide styluses for the touchscreens so voters don’t have to use their fingers.

***

More than 1.4 million Georgians have now requested mail-in ballots for the June 9 primaries. How many will actually mail them back to one of 159 county election offices remains an open question -- we’re operating in a political climate with no precedent.

But we do know one thing. The number of Republican and Democratic ballots requested is approaching parity. According to GeorgiaVotes.com, 48.8% of voters have requested GOP ballots, and 47.2% have requested Democratic ones.

The difference stands at 23,005 this morning. Last month, the coronavirus struck the Fulton County elections office, creating a tremendous backlog of ballot requests. At that time, a Fulton County spokeswoman said the county had received 135,000 requests for ballots. As of this morning, it has processed 108,516. Needless to say, Fulton is a Democratic bastion.

***

Mark Burkhalter, a former state representative, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Norway. Burkhalter, a Republican who lives in Johns Creek, spent 18 years in the General Assembly including a brief, 11-day stint as House Speaker. 

His appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

***

Various candidates for Congress in Georgia  were photographed earlier this year alongside a man with long-standing ties to white supremacist groups.

A photo of Rep. Matt Gurtler and militia group leader Chester Doles has been circulating from some time, Gurtler’s political opponents are starting to speak out. 

“As a Christian, I’m repulsed by bigotry and hatred in all forms, and racism has no place in our state or in the Ninth District,” said State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. “North Georgians are decent, faithful and hard-working people. They deserve elected leaders who reflect that, not those who would embarrass us with their poor judgment.”

Both Gurtler and Tanner are candidates for the Ninth District congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.

Gurtler declined to be interviewed about the photo, but in an email to the AJC he said the “context is straightforward.”

“I was asked by a voter to speak to a pro-gun, conservative group that supports President Trump. There was a group picture with all the candidates and speakers,” he wrote.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, who also has been in a picture with Doles, refused to answer the AJC’s questions and instead called us the “Fake News Media.”

One of her opponents in the 14th District race, John Barge, said Greene’s response shows a lack of judgement.

“It is not fake news nor a game of gotcha to denounce racists and extremists who claim 9/11 was an inside job, among other disconcerting views,” he said in a statement. “On the contrary, it is entry-level leadership.” 

***

Spiritual adviser and former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson is out with a slate of endorsements, and four Georgia Democrats made her list.

She is backing U.S. Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson, First District congressional candidate Lisa Ring, and Nabilah Islam, who is running for the Seventh District seat. 

Williamson also endorsed Michael Owens in the 13th District over incumbent U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta.

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