Melinda Gates told "Axios on HBO" that the Trump administration has neutered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and continued to bungle its coronavirus response, concluding that only a "lack of leadership" explains why far more people have died in the U.S. than in other developed countries.

Why it matters: The comments mark the sharpest rebuke yet from the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has emerged as the largest funder of the World Health Organization after the U.S. yanked funding earlier this year.

Gates said she had never seen a health issue anywhere in the world be as politicized as COVID-19 has been in the U.S.

  • "We've had — terrible leadership on this issue quite frankly. And science should never be politicized. Science is about getting at the truth."

The big picture: Back in May, Gates gave the administration a "D-" grade for its coronavirus response and said there has been "no improvement" in the intervening months.

  • "We shouldn't have 50 different responses in the United States," she said. "You should have a coordinated national plan. The CDC was set up originally to give sound medical guidance to health and county commissioners. The CDC has been neutered to not be able to do its job."

Gates also said it was a "tragedy" that the U.S. pulled funding from the WHO in the middle of the pandemic. While "not perfect," Gates said the WHO was set up to handle global pandemics.

  • "You just don't pull out of WHO in the middle of a crisis," she said.

The bottom line: Gates stopped short of endorsing a candidate in the upcoming presidential election. "We're always tempted," Gates said with a laugh. "But it's important for us as private citizens to, you know, keep our votes to ourselves and for our institution to be nonpartisan."

  • Asked if she expects the November election to be a free and fair one, Gates said she is hopeful. "I think we're all kind of holding our breath and watching," she said.
  • "It's all of our jobs to make sure that we say that's what we expect and that's what we want and can have as an American people. ... There may be some updating that needs to happen to our system when this is over for sure."

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