“I think he got the message maybe confused,” the President said of the vaccine comments and added that Redfield “didn’t understand the question” on masks — even though the doctor’s answers had been clearly considered and carefully worded.
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said during an appearance hosted by Hillsdale College, a private, conservative school in Michigan.
And his pressure on Redfield left no doubt that his short-term electoral considerations are far more important to him than a credible inoculation that Americans trust.
The President’s power play also left the position of the CDC chief untenable, even though his statements were essentially accurate.
After a telephone call from the President and Trump’s public rebuke, a CDC official told CNN that Redfield now realized that he misunderstood the questions about the vaccines.
His climbdown left his credibility shattered and means that any future statements he makes will be viewed through the prism of Trump’s bullying interference based on incessant efforts to undermine science.
Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of Medicine at George Washington University, said the President’s performance on Wednesday was “stunning.”
“What Dr. Redfield said today made complete sense. It was common sense. What he said was it’s going to take a very long time to vaccinate the US,” Reiner told CNN’s Erin Burnett.
More broadly, Trump’s behavior showed how a President who disdains details and has never leveled with Americans about the virus, has been such a failure in mitigating the worst health crisis in 100 years.
By repeatedly talking about a vaccine as if it was already available, and not subject to rigorous clinical trials, Trump also cast doubt on the process of scientific evaluation that will be required before it is approved by regulators.
Two irreconcilable views
Wednesday’s chaos also reflected the increasingly irreconcilable realities confronting Americans.
There’s the real country, where it will take many months for all Americans to get vaccinated once one is approved and manufactured. This country lost 1,200 citizens on Tuesday alone, will shortly mourn its 200,000th victim and has rising cases from a base that’s far higher than other rich nations.
Then there’s Trump land, constructed on a framework of lies and misinformation designed to trick voters in November from dwelling on his poor performance. It’s a place where masks recommended by people like Redfield don’t really work.
Redfield angered Trump during congressional testimony in which he was optimistic that a vaccine would soon be approved and manufactured. But that it would first need to be prioritized for first responders and those who are most at risk. Asked when there would be sufficient vaccine for the general public to get back to normal, he had a long, and somewhat dismaying timeline.
“I think we’re probably looking at third, late second quarter, third quarter 2021,” he said.
That timeline is no use to Trump since he must face voters in less than seven weeks. So he wasted little time in putting out an alternative story.
“We think we can start sometime in October,” Trump said.
“So as soon as it is announced, we’ll be able to start. That will be from mid-October on … We will be all set,” he said, promising Americans a vaccine in “at most a couple of months.”
The President added with no evidence or credibility that Covid-19 infections will be “very low” by the time Americans vote on November 3 and warned that states fearing a resurgence were staying closed just to hurt him politically.
Redfield said at the Wednesday hearing, “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70%. And if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
Trump later replied: “As far as the masks are concerned, I hope that the vaccine is going to be a lot more beneficial than the masks.”
While he said that Redfield may have “misunderstood” the question, the President’s comments suggest he was not clear on the science or on the effectiveness of vaccines and how masks work.