For Biden administration, Fauci’s in, but Birx is not

Image of a woman speaking in front of charts.

Enlarge / White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx speaks during a press briefing in November 2020. (credit: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx announced that she will end decades of government service after the Biden transition is completed. The move comes after controversy over how she spent her Thanksgiving and articles suggesting that the incoming administration was uncertain about whether to retain her. Birx was a widely respected public health official until taking over the coronavirus response, which has left her associated with the misinformation provided by Trump and many other members of his administration.

Damaged legacy

Birx’s government career started in the 1980s, when she was in the Army and Army Reserve, ultimately reaching the rank of colonel. During this time, she frequently worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center but also spent time in the lab of Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health. But much of her reputation is based on her work fighting AIDS, first at the CDC, and later as the US Global AIDS coordinator, where her work was widely praised.

That reputation earned her a prominent place in the US’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Trump naming her the Coronavirus Response coordinator and giving her an influential place on the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force. This, however, ultimately placed her in an untenable position, as Trump himself was a frequent source of misinformation about the pandemic, and much of the White House staff frequently ignored public health guidance originating elsewhere in the government. Birx was left with what turned out to be an impossible task: maintain her job and influence by not publicly contradicting Trump’s misstatements and policies while attempting to ensure that the public got quality information.

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