What do Billy Ray Cyrus, Dwyane Wade, and Dr. Oz have in common? Practically nothing, especially not their politics. Yet they found themselves on a list of ten celebrities approved by the Trump White House for a planned COVID-19 ad campaign to “defeat despair and inspire hope.” This wasn’t a political ad for the Trump campaign but a taxpayer-funded $250 million contract through the Department of Health and Human Services, Politico reported back in August. And a new report by the Washington Post claims three top Democratic representatives expressed worries about the project’s political slant to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, claiming documents show that HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo wanted to use the ads to support Trump’s reelection with themes like “Helping the President Will Help the Country.”
According to the Post, the project started with a list of 274 potential celebrity participants, who were then weeded out if they had criticized Trump, supported former president Barack Obama, or supported LGBTQ rights. That left just ten Trump-approved celebrities behind: Cyrus, Wade, and Oz, along with musicians Garth Brooks, Enrique Iglesias, Miranda Lambert, Marc Anthony, CeCe Winans and Shulem Lemmer, and actor Dennis Quaid. Three of them filmed the ads, the Post reported, including Quaid, who said his spot “was in no way political” in September, and Winans, who echoed Quaid’s comments around the same time. As of now, none of the celebrities have approved for the interviews to be used.
Then there are the celebs who weren’t up to snuff. Among them are Billie Eilish, who is”not a Trump supporter” and once stated Trump is “destroying our country and everything we care about,” the document allegedly claimed, also citing Trump criticisms by Jennifer Lopez and Judd Apatow. Notes from a September 29 meeting also outlined the liberal politics of celebrities including Christina Aguilera (“an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay rights supporting liberal”), Johnny Depp (“appears to be aligned with the liberal left”), and Jack Black (“known to be a classic Hollywood liberal”), among others. A document also listed celebrities who could potentially appeal to “superspreaders”: Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, and Cardi B, along with Aguilera and Depp.
The representatives who signed the letter had previously requested additional documents about the campaign in September and are now requesting the information by November 10. Caputo declined to comment to the Post and is currently on a 60-day leave from his position after encouraging Trump supporters to buy ammunition ahead of the election and accusing scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of “sedition.” He later revealed he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Correction: This post originally stated that the HHS document said Billie Eilish was “destroying our country and everything we care about.” That’s not true. The document said she said that about Trump. Which is true. She said the quote at the 2020 DNC.