A Four-year Timeline of Trump’s Impact on Science

Nature | October 02, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a coronavirus press conference with Dr Birx and Dr Fauci in the background.
Trump has repeatedly undercut messages from public-health officials such as those on the White House coronavirus task force, including its coordinator Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Since he took office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump has not made science a priority; he has proposed massive cuts to many science agencies and took 19 months to nominate a science adviser. But his policies and actions have had strong impacts — many of them harmful — on researchers and issues related to science. Here’s a timeline of those events ahead of the US presidential election on 3 November. (A related story explores how Trump has damaged science.)


January: Travel ban. In just his second week as president, Trump signs an order that prohibited people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. The order sparks fear and confusion — including among researchers from those countries and their collaborators. After several legal challenges to various versions of this order, the US Supreme Court ultimately upholds a more limited version of the ban.

March: Science spending. The administration’s first budget proposal, for 2018, calls for slashing funding for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US National Institutes of Health and several other science agencies. The US Congress, which decides spending levels, largely ignores the proposals, but the administration’s spending requests signal its priorities for science funding.

In the same month, Trump signs an executive order that aims to dismantle the climate policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama. The order directs the EPA to repeal limits on carbon emissions from power plants.

June: Climate withdrawal. Trump announces that the United States will withdraw from the international 2015 Paris climate accord, prompting an outcry from scientists.

October: Science advice. The EPA takes steps to bar key scientists from serving on advisory committees, while making it easier for industry representatives to serve.

December: Moon plans. Trump directs NASA to work on sending astronauts back to the Moon, signalling a change in priorities for the agency. The administration later puts a 2024 deadline on this goal, which would be within Trump’s second term if he is re-elected.


April: Data ban. Scott Pruitt, appointed by Trump to the post of EPA administrator, proposes a rule that would prevent the agency from basing regulatory decisions on studies for which the underlying data is not publicly available — which includes many studies that rely on medical data, such as those on the health impacts of pollutants.

May: Nuclear withdrawal. Trump announces that the United States will exit the nuclear agreement with Iran, a move criticized by many researchers.

July: Delayed advice. Trump nominates meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier as his science adviser. The president took longer to appoint someone to this position than any other first-term president since at least 1976, when the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was created.

August: Industry tilt. The EPA proposes changes to its process for evaluating chemicals that would put greater weight on industry–funded research.


April: Advisers cancelled. US researchers decry a decision by the Department of Defense to cancel its longstanding relationship with JASON, an independent group that provides technical advice to the government and includes many eminent scientists and academics.

September: Sharpiegate. Trump falsely claims that Alabama is likely to be hit harder than anticipated from an approaching hurricane and his administration criticizes National Weather Service forecasters who contradict the president. A government investigation later finds that the administration’s actions could undercut public trust in weather-service forecasts.

November: Goodbye Paris. Trump formally begins the process to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord.


February: Viral misinformation. Trump tells the country not to worry about the coronavirus because it is “mild” and “like a flu”. However, in recorded interviews with journalist Bob Woodward that weren’t released until September, Trump says that the virus is far worse than the flu and that he intentionally plays down the threat to avoid creating a panic.

April: Blaming the WHO. With US coronavirus deaths rapidly climbing, Trump blames China and the World Health Organization, and vows to freeze US funding to the agency.

The president hypes chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for COVID-19, despite questionable evidence that they help. Subsequent studies show no evidence that the drugs are effective against the disease.

The EPA proposes to maintain current standards for particulate air pollution, dismissing evidence from government scientists and outside researchers that strengthening those standards could save tens of thousands of lives each year.

May: Vaccine race. Trump announces Operation Warp Speed, aimed at producing a vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 by the end of 2020.

Trump declares that the United States will withdraw from the WHO.

July: CDC sidelined. The Trump administration transfers responsibility for collecting coronavirus data away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of a series of steps that sideline the agency with primary responsibility for preventing and responding to disease outbreaks.

August: Testing confusion. The CDC issues revised guidance suggesting that people without symptoms do not need to be tested for COVID-19, sparking anger and confusion among scientists and public-health officials.

September: Guideline reversal. The CDC reverses the new testing guidance, after reports that political appointees at its parent agency, the US Department of Health and Human Services, had published them without proper scientific review.

Trump announces that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by October, before election day, prompting fears that the approval process could be influenced by politics.

October: Presidential illness. Trump announces that he and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19. He has experienced symptoms consistent with a moderate to severe case and is receiving experimental treatments.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-02814-3

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