Trump Official Taps Ex-Dog Breeder As COVID Response Leader


The Trump administration has largely struggled with the development of a comprehensively effective response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Now, Reuters is reporting that the Trump-appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar tapped an official to lead the daily development of his department’s Coronavirus response whose previous experience includes six years as a dog breeder. Rather than appoint any one of a large number of available competently experienced public health professionals, Azar went with this guy: Brian Harrison, a “trusted aide with minimal public health experience” who “had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years.”

Harrison wasn’t just a nobody — initially, Reuters reports that even some of the decisions about who should be on the administration’s initial Coronavirus task force were left to him. He decided, to the surprise of some of those involved, to exclude the Food and Drug Administration from the task force, which meant that early on, “the White House wasn’t getting information from the FDA about the state of the testing effort,” Reuters reports from sources inside the administration. A more sharply focused Coronavirus testing regimen in the early days of the outbreak could have provided authorities with the chance to clamp down on the disease before the current crisis proportions of the outbreak.

Harrison suggests that his past in “small business” somehow equips him for his current role of leading public health policy in the Trump administration. It does not. He lacks any public health experience, which is not made up for by having spent more than half a decade selling Labradoodles.

He claimed:

‘Americans would be well served by having more government officials who have started and worked in small family businesses and fewer trying to use that experience to attack them and distort the record.’

Azar, for his part, praised Harrison, insisting:

‘From day one, Brian has demonstrated remarkable leadership and managerial talents.’

Americans don’t need “managerial talents.” This isn’t a marketing 101 class. The lives of Americans hang in the balance, and one of the guys in charge of responding ran a dog breeding business until about two years ago.

Harrison first worked with Azar all the way back in 2006, when he joined the department as a “confidential assistant” to the eventual department secretary, who was then serving as a deputy secretary in the George W. Bush administration. Besides a slew of other posts, including roles working for high-profile interests like Vice President Dick Cheney, Harrison ran a dog breeding business in Dallas from 2012 through 2018, around the time that he joined the Health and Human Services Department as deputy chief of staff for Azar. In 2019, Harrison got a promotion to the role of chief of staff for Azar, replacing Peter Urbanowicz, “an experienced hospital executive with decades of experience in public health,” as Reuters describes him.

Of course, Harrison isn’t the only one without relevant experience remaining in charge of the Coronavirus response. President Trump had no public health experience before his present position. Throughout the crisis, he’s repeatedly referred to his “hunches” about things, as if that’s supposed to be remotely reassuring.