Battered by Trump, Robert Redfield of the C.D.C. Faces Pressure to Speak Out

Battered by Trump, Robert Redfield of the C.D.C. Faces Pressure to Speak Out


As pressure on him intensified this spring and summer, Dr. Redfield did not tell top aides that he was considering resigning, a former federal health official said. Instead, he would make versions of the same comment: “As long as I’m here, with the time I have left, which may not be long, we’re going to try to do x, y and z,” the official recalled.

Known as “R3” by his staff — a reference to his initials — Dr. Redfield has rarely been in Atlanta during the pandemic, with top aides seeing him only a dozen or so times. Often summoned to coronavirus task force meetings and congressional hearings, he instead has stayed at his home in Baltimore, where he helped found and run a virology institute at the University of Maryland before becoming C.D.C. director in 2018.

He was named to the job by Mr. Trump’s health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, replacing Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who resigned after six months on the job amid disclosures that she had bought tobacco stocks.

When he arrived at the C.D.C., one scientist there said, many in the agency were relieved. They had feared Mr. Trump might appoint someone openly hostile to science, or an opponent of vaccines. But Dr. Redfield had no experience in public health or in running a large government agency like the C.D.C., with 11,000 employees. Nor is he an especially good communicator.

“I don’t think he was the leader for this agency at this point in time,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, who has known Dr. Redfield since they served together in the Army decades ago. “I don’t know if anybody could have been.”

Now, less than a month from the election, the question is whether the C.D.C. can recover. Dr. Foege refused to allow the possibility that it could not.

“They have to recover,” he said. “The world needs a gold standard in public health.”

Noah Weiland contributed reporting.



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