Trump adviser blames CDC for letting 'the country down' with early testing snags

WASHINGTON — One of President Trump’s top economic advisers criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's early response to the coronavirus spread Sunday, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" the CDC "let the country down" initially with testing problems.

When asked whether President Trump had faith in the CDC, White House trade adviser and Defense Production Act coordinator Peter Navarro said that is a question for the president before criticizing the federal health agency’s initial response to the pandemic.

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

In the early weeks of the pandemic response, the CDC faced technical problems as it sought to develop test kits for a previously unknown virus. Those issues led to faulty results from test kits initially sent by the CDC to labs in January.

The agency also faced criticism for initially providing narrow testing criteria that prompted some early, suspected coronavirus cases to not be tested quickly.

In March testimony in front of the House of Representatives, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield admitted that a portion of the initial test kit “did not perform the way we wanted it to perform,” raising the possibility of a “contamination.”

The CDC ultimately released new test kits and broader testing criteria.

Navarro's analysis of the CDC isn't shared by all in the administration.

Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar disagreed with the sentiment.

"I don't believe the CDC let this country down. I believe the CDC serves an important public health role," he said.

Navarro, who is helping to coordinate the administration’s work with private companies under the Defense Production Act, also defended the administration’s use of its powers under that act, which allows it to compel private companies to make essential goods.

Last week, a handful of Democratic senators wrote a letter to the president asking him to use the Defense Production Act more broadly to boost production of protective equipment and test kits, pointing to concerns that states don’t have enough of either to “protect Americans from COVID-19 and safely reopen the economy.”

Navarro dismissed that criticism, calling the senators “dead wrong” and pointing to the administration’s work with General Motors to create ventilators.

“We’re using the DPA whenever we need to, and we are using it quite effectively,” he said, arguing that America will have “more ventilators than it ever needs.”

“These Democratic senators ought to get out more often and see what the Trump administration is doing.”

And he echoed the administration’s push toward encouraging states to relax coronavirus-related restrictions, claiming that a link between unemployment and issues like suicide and depression means that strict societal restrictions are more dangerous than the virus.

"If you contrast this complete lockdown, where some of the people in the medical community want to just run and hide until the virus is extinguished, that's going to not only take a huge toll on the American economy, it’s going to kill more people than the virus, the China Virus, ever would,” he said, using a moniker for coronavirus that has been used by many administration officials as they look to blame China for the virus' spread.