May 6, 2020
The White House told House Democrats on May 4, that their requests for testimony from two key members of the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 task force would be denied—a move that adds to the list of officials who have been blocked from speaking under oath about the federal response (or lack therof) to the pandemic, The Daily Beast reported.
And that only expands the number of White House aides and federal-level officials whom the White House has prevented from bearing witness during the past three years—stonewalling all attempts by Congress to investigate or obtain firsthand evidence on the Administration’s obscure or covert activities.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee had asked the administration for testimony from Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; and from Seema Verma, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Two sources, including a Democratic spokesperson for the committee, confirmed to The Daily Beast that their requests were rejected on Monday.
Indeed, according to the Daily Beast, last week, the White House blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) the administration’s foremost infectious disease expert, from testifying before House Democrats, although Fauci still is set to appear before a Senate panel run by Republicans.
The White House defended the decision by saying it would be “counterproductive” to have officials involved in the COVID-19 response to appear at congressional hearings because they are too lengthy.
A senior administration official told The Daily Beast that the task force has been working “non-stop” since the beginning of the outbreak and has conducted numerous public briefings. “I don’t think anyone can reasonably say we aren’t being transparent,” the official said.
President Trump himself had a different explanation. “The House is a set up,” he told reporters on Tuesday morning from the White House lawn en route to Arizona. “The House is a bunch of Trump haters.”
That outlook was formalized in a new White House policy that began circulating among officials on May 4. It instructed members of the coronavirus task force that they would not be permitted to testify in Congress without the approval of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said that the White House’s move was “business as usual” from the Trump administration and said that lawmakers needed the latest information from task force officials to inform their legislative response to the virus.
Azar, the embattled chief of HHS, has faced criticism over missteps in the agency’s COVID response, particularly the lack of testing availability early on in the outbreak. He has not testified publicly since March 12. Verma, who oversees the government’s two biggest and most expensive healthcare programs, has not testified publicly since the COVID-19 outbreak began.
Research contact: @thedailybeast