“We are used to dealing with a White House that asks for things and then chaos ensues. A team of people at the CDC spent innumerable hours in response to an ask from Debbie Birx,” said the source.
“The 17-page report represents an ask from the White House Task Force to come up with these recommendations. That’s our role. To put together this guidance.”
A task force official told CNN that Trump’s guidelines announced in mid-April for reopening the country “made clear that each state should open up in a safe and responsible way based on the data and response efforts in those individual states.”
An administration official told CNN that CDC leadership had not seen the draft document before it was leaked, and there were two concerns when it reached the task force. It was “overly prescriptive” because “guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn’t be the same guidance for urban New York City,” and the recommendations in the document did not fit the “phases” that had already been outlined by the task force.
The task force asked for the document to be sent back to the CDC for revisions, which weren’t returned. The administration official didn’t know whether there was a decision at CDC level to shelve the idea.
A senior administration official added that the draft document was the subject of heated internal debate, but ultimately, members of the task force felt it was too specific and might not be helpful as nationwide guidance.
‘I want to go back to where it was’
The draft document included specific guidance for six categories: child care programs; schools and day camps; communities of faith; employers with vulnerable workers; restaurants and bars; mass transit administrators. For each category, the draft document notes reopening in phases.
But the White House has been subject to an intensive lobbying effort from certain sectors that were looking to influence the guidelines, the senior CDC official said. And Trump publicly signaled last week that he was unlikely to sign off on guidelines that recommended a return to an altered way of life.
“I see the new normal being what it was three months ago. I think we want to go back to where it was,” Trump said at a meeting with representatives from the restaurant and hospitality industries.
“I want to go back to where it was, that’s where we’re going to be,” Trump said.
At the White House briefing on Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated the White House’s initiative to let the nation’s governors implement their own guidelines.
“This is a governor-led effort. The President has said that governors make the decisions as to move forward and we encourage them to follow our phased approach,” McEnany said.
The decision to reject the CDC’s guidance is part of the ongoing friction that has gone on between the top US health agency and the White House, the agency official said. The CDC is trying to get its recommendations implemented at the state level via state agencies.
Part of the debate over the recommendation had to do specifically with what was recommended for businesses.
“The CDC, the White House task force and White House principles were in disagreement on how strongly a public health response should still be in place,” said the official.
The official added that the agency was told by Department of Labor officials — who are all part of the government process — that under the agency’s proposed guidelines, some of the restrictions that would have to be placed on entities like churches and businesses were too stringent, and businesses would be left vulnerable to legal liability if a worker contracts or dies from Covid-19 on the job.
“In the absence of law, it’s regulation, and in the absence of regulation, it’s recommendations. They think it’s left too much open to be interpreted by the courts if something happens on the job. It doesn’t matter if (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is playing ball or not,” the CDC source said.