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Birx on Trump's disinfectant proposal for Covid: 'I didn't know how to handle that episode'

In a new interview, Trump's Covid-19 response coordinator said she still thinks about the moment "every day."
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Dr. Deborah Birx said Monday that military protocol prevented her from publicly questioning then-President Donald Trump's dubious suggestion that injections of disinfectant could fight Covid-19.

In a moment that came to symbolize the Trump administration's pandemic response, Birx struggled to hold a poker face in April 2020 when the president told reporters that disinfectants and "ultraviolet or just a very powerful light" could be used to treat coronavirus patients.

"You can see how extraordinarily uncomfortable I was," Birx said in a new interview with ABC News.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens as President Donald Trump.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens as President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington.Alex Brandon / AP file

A former U.S. Army physician, Birx said she's long been trained not to show up a commander, no matter how outlandish a statement was being made.

"I have spent almost 30 years in the military. I worked for every president from Jimmy Carter up and through President Bush," she said. "Those of you who have served in the military know that there are discussions you have in private with your commanding officers and there's discussions you had in public."

She added: "Frankly, I didn't know how to handle that episode. I still think about it every day."

At no time, Birx said, did she think about correcting Trump at the moment.

"But I was just not trained in my years ... to react that way," she said. "I think maybe if someone didn't have the military training that I had, maybe they would have reacted differently."

Image: Dr. Deborah Birx listens to President Trump in the White House briefing room.
President Donald Trump holds a press conference about the coronavirus at the White House in Washington on April 13, 2020. At left is Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator.Alex Brandon / AP file

When interviewer Terry Moran asked Birx if she shares any of the blame for the nation's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, the doctor said she and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did their best within parameters of the Trump White House.

"I think all of us, whether you're a civil servant like myself and Dr. Fauci or a political appointee, I can't tell you how many discussions we had on how do we get the messaging out, realizing what's happening at the most senior levels of the White House," she said.

About 536,000 Americans have died from the virus as of Tuesday, according to a running tally by NBC News.

U.S. fatalities from Covid-19 represent about 20 percent of the known global death toll, despite having just 4.25 percent of the world population.