GOP fronts 'pro-Trump' doctors to prescribe rapid reopening

President Donald Trump is greeted by Matt Schlapp, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, as the president arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 29 at National Harbor in Oxon Hill.

WASHINGTON — Republican political operatives are recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign organized by CNP Action, an affiliate of the GOP-aligned Council for National Policy. A leaked recording of the hourlong call was provided to The Associated Press by the Center for Media and Democracy, a progressive watchdog group.

CNP Action is part of the Save Our Country Coalition, an alliance of conservative think tanks and political committees formed in late April to end state lockdowns implemented in response to the pandemic. Other members of the coalition include the FreedomWorks Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council and Tea Party Patriots.

A resurgent economy is seen as critical to boosting President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes and has become a growing focus of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence.

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director, confirmed to AP that an effort to recruit doctors to publicly support the president is underway, but declined to say when the initiative would be rolled out.

“Anybody who joins one of our coalitions is vetted,” Murtaugh said Monday. “And so quite obviously, all of our coalitions espouse policies and say things that are, of course, exactly simpatico with what the president believes. ... The president has been outspoken about the fact that he wants to get the country back open as soon as possible.”

During an emergency such as the current pandemic, it’s important that the government provide consistent science-based information to the public, said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has been among the most visible government experts warning that lifting lockdowns too quickly could lead to a spike in deaths.

El-Sadr said having doctors relay contradictory information on behalf of the president is “quite alarming.”

“I find it totally irresponsible to have physicians who are touting some information that’s not anchored in evidence and not anchored in science,” El-Sadr said. “What often creates confusion is the many voices that are out there, and many of those voices do have a political interest, which is the hugely dangerous situation we are at now.”

Murtaugh said the campaign is not concerned about contradicting government experts.

“Our job at the campaign is to reflect President Trump’s point of view,” Murtaugh said. “We are his campaign. There is no difference between us and him.”

On the May 11 call, Nancy Schulze, a GOP activist who is married to former Rep. Dick Schulze, R-Pa., said she had given the campaign a list of 27 doctors prepared to defend Trump’s reopening push.

“There is a coalition of doctors who are extremely pro-Trump that have been preparing and coming together for the war ahead in the campaign on health care,” Schulze said on the call. “And we have doctors that are … in the trenches, that are saying ‘It’s time to reopen.’”

The idea quickly gained support from Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump campaign senior adviser who previously served two years as the president’s director of strategic communications.

“Those are the types of guys that we should want to get out on TV and radio to help push out the message,” Schlapp said on the call.

“They’ve already been vetted. But they need to be put on the screens,” Schulze replied.

Schlapp’s husband agreed the president is getting criticized for not appearing to follow the advice of public health experts. Matt Schlapp is chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference attended by conservative luminaries.

“The president’s going to get tagged by the fake news media as being irresponsible and not listening to doctors,” Matt Schlapp said on the call. “And so we have to gird his loins with a lot of other people. So I think what Nancy’s talking about … this is the critical juncture that we highlight them.”

Matt Schlapp told AP on Monday that he stood behind what he said on the leaked call.

“There is a big dynamic in the national media that will not give President Trump any credit,” he said. “It’s important to get the message out there that most people recover from corona. Most people are not in mortal danger with corona and that we can safely open up the economy.”

As several Republican governors moved last week to lift their state lockdowns, the National Ensemble Forecast used by the CDC to predict COVID-19 infections and deaths saw a corresponding increase. The CDC now forecasts the U.S. will exceed 100,000 deaths by June 1, a grim milestone that previously was not predicted to occur until late in the summer.

As of Tuesday, more than 1.5 million Americans had tested positive for COVID-19, with more than 91,000 deaths reported nationwide.

Experts, including Fauci, have said that is likely an undercount, with the true number being much higher. Meanwhile, Trump has suggested, without providing evidence, that the official death toll from the virus is being inflated.

Schulze, who was working to organize the pro-Trump doctors, did not respond to messages from AP seeking comment. But after the AP contacted the Trump campaign seeking comment for this story, a Washington public relations firm that frequently works for conservative groups distributed an open letter to Trump signed by more than 400 doctors calling the state coronavirus lockdowns a “mass casualty event” causing “millions of casualties” from alcoholism, homelessness, suicide and other causes.

“It is impossible to overstate the short, medium, and long-term harm to people’s health with a continued shutdown,” the letter said. “Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful events, and the effect on a person’s health is not lessened because it also has happened to 30 million other people. Keeping schools and universities closed is incalculably detrimental for children, teenagers, and young adults for decades to come.”

The first signature on the letter was Dr. Simone Gold, an emergency medicine specialist in Los Angeles who is listed as a member of the Save Our Country Coalition on the group’s website. She has recently appeared on conservative talk radio and podcast programs to advocate for the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that Trump says he is taking because he believes it can prevent COVID-19 even though his own administration has warned it can have deadly side effects. Gold said she has prescribed the drug to two of her patients with good results.

The Food and Drug Administration warned health professionals last month that the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of hospital or research settings due to sometimes fatal side effects.

Gold told AP on Tuesday she started speaking out against shelter-in-place and other infection control measures because there was “no scientific basis that the average American should be concerned” about COVID-19. Like the president, she is advocating for a fast reopening, and argues that because the majority of deaths so far have been the elderly and people with preexisting conditions, younger people should be working.

Gold denied she was coordinating her efforts with Trump’s reelection campaign.

“But put this in there: I’m honored to be considered,” she said.

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Dearen reported from Gainesville, Florida.

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Follow AP investigative reporters Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck and Jason Dearen at http://twitter.com/JHDearen

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Have a tip? Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org

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(14) comments

MRS M

As we move into summer, decisions will be made by individuals and families as to how willing they are to incur some risk to resume normal routines. Masks, hygiene, and distancing are individual choices for consumers. But the cultural fight will continue unabated. To that end, I see no reason why Trump cannot re-start his campaign rallys ASAP in favored States. In fact, I can't wait to see him packin' 'em in, cheering and clapping and spewing all over each other. After all, now that Drs. Birx and Dr. Fauci have been kicked to the curb for being unwilling to lie for Trump in the area of scientific or public health facts, we have Republican docs for hire to do just that. Let the rallys begin. Should be fun to watch................

Dwasserba

Some doctors suck, but they are the last to know.

threecents

Many are falling like lemmings into this mindset that all Republicans are for opening everything and against mandated precautions, while all Democrats want to stay in their basements and starve the economy. That is just lazy tribalism. We are all in this together. Things don't become one side vs the other, unless we make it that way.

hayduke2

three- [thumbup][thumbup]

des21

And in other, continuing news, the NY Times, WaPo, PBS and the major networks continue to "front" the Democratic party line which is that the threat is still so dire that the economy must remain closed until after the Presidential election and we must pay workers more in unemployment (with enhanced benefits) to keep workers from returning to work even if the economy is allowed to re-open.

I swear,if you don't see what's going on you must be..... I'm too polite to say.[wink]

Get a clue folks, your retirement account might have rebounded but your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to pay for this folly. ( I appreciate all those who bemoaned the loss of value of their IRA accounts in March who blamed President Trump. They were the ones who were applauding him most loudly when they lived for 3 years off those same accounts without them losing any value. Right? No, that would have been the logical, honorable thing to do. Sheesh!)

bosco

Why would the Trump campaign line up doctors who are anti-Trump? That's about as newsworthy as saying the Biden campaign has lined up pro-Biden doctors.

hayduke2

Right on cue, blow smoke and divert.

threecents

Either would be newsworthy because we don't want science to be politicized. And you left out "extremely" for some reason.

awteam2000

The unemployment benefits should be unconditional.

The folly was Trump didn’t take the pandemic seriously and slept on it for two months, followed by an anemic response. The result was 1,551,853 positive COVID-19 cases and 95,000 fatalities in ten weeks.

hayduke2

Hard to face reality and truth, is it?

gary4books

Who sees and who does not? And that IS worth a discussion.

gary4books

Perhaps they were not "real doctors" that I saw on television in the 50's advertising tobacco and saying "Not a cough in a carload." But we thought they were real. And it seemed that they would say stuff for pay. Certainly not for good health.

Dwasserba

So easy (1) Get a stethescope (2) Hang it around your neck (3) Boom And it's not even Halloween

Hollowed Ground

I swear .....I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.....Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman....Sounds like the Goobers are lining up a bunch of liars and charlatans who need to have their licenses revoked.

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