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Senior CDC official rebukes White House trade adviser’s criticism as tensions escalate over reopening strategy

Photo of the CDC. (Provided Photo/CNN)

(CNN) — A senior official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday offered a pointed rebuke of White House trade adviser Peter Navarro’sscathing criticism of the top health agency in the latest sign of growing tension between the CDC and the White House.

“We should remind Mr. Navarro that the CDC is a federal agency part of the administration. The CDC director is an appointed position, and Dr. (Robert) Redfield was appointed by President (Donald) Trump,” the official told CNN.

“If there is criticism of the CDC, ultimately Mr. Navarro is being critical of the President and the man who President Trump placed to lead the agency.”

The comments come after Navarro slammed the CDC earlier Sunday, saying, “it let the country down” on testing during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“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. Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy they had a bad test and that set us back,” Navarro said.

The barbs come as CNN reported that tensions are rising between the White House and the nation’s leading public health agency. In interviews, senior administration officials in Washington as well as top officials at the CDC in Atlanta described a growing sense of mistrust and animosity between the White House and CDC over how quickly the US should reopen and how the government tracks data on the virus.

“This administration has shown time and time again that it has a problem with science. We are giving them science and they don’t seem to want it,” the veteran CDC official told CNN.

The official also said that the initial plan to mitigate and control Covid-19 in March was a “targeted and phased approach,” which the administration “chose not to implement,” instead announcing a “blanket approach” 15-day national pause.

Commenting on the six-page CDC “decision trees” guidance that was released last week by the White House, the senior official told CNN that the recommendations were part of the larger 68-page document.

“Now we’re being too general. Before it was too much specificity. We continue to get mixed messages from the White House,” the official said. “We are allowed to release what they allow us to release.”

Contamination in manufacturing the CDC test for the coronavirus caused weeks of delays that slowed the US response to the pandemic, multiple health officials told CNN last month. The problem stemmed in part from the CDC not adhering to its own protocols, according to a US Food and Drug Administration spokesperson.

The government has never fully explained what stalled the roll out of a crucial test needed to begin measuring the extent of the spread of Covid-19. It would take until the end of February to correct.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged problems with the CDC’s original test but defended the agency in an interview Sunday.

“I don’t believe the CDC let this country down,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation” when asked about 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.”

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