Senate Democrats want to create a task force to investigate any political interference in government health agencies’ coronavirus response.
Legislation introduced Tuesday would create a task force within the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee — an independent body created by the CARES Act — to investigate what Democrats argue are clear examples of the Trump administration impeding scientific work by agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bill instructs the task force to examine communications between the White House, HHS and other health agencies. The bill also directs the body to review initial, subsequent and final drafts of scientific publications and communications to be investigated “to assess changes made … as a result of political interference.” If the task force runs into issues obtaining information, it is instructed to notify Congress.
“America will not defeat this virus if people do not have confidence that treatments, vaccines and guidance are approved with only public health goals in mind,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is the sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.
The task force would report its findings to congressional committees with jurisdiction over various health agencies. Those panels would have the authority to release the reports to the public. The task force would also be allowed to release information “it deems is in the public interest and may be important to public safety.”
“It is painfully clear that the Trump Administration won’t stop the political interference which is threatening our response to this pandemic and putting lives in jeopardy on its own, so it is up to Congress to act,” Senate HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is a bill cosponsor, said in a statement.
Background: HHS political officials have received criticism in recent weeks for dictating talking points to infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and interfering with CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.
In late August, CDC stopped promoting Covid-19 testing for most people without symptoms who had been exposed to an infected person. That change, made at the behest of top Trump administration officials involved with the White House coronavirus task force, was reversed last week.
And on Monday, CDC pulled down days-old guidance that warned Covid-19 mainly spreads through aerosols that individuals produce when they breath, talk, cough, sing or sneeze. The agency published a note that said the document was a “draft version” that was erroneously published.
What’s next: HHS testing czar Brett Giroir, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Fauci and Hahn are set to testify about the response to the pandemic to the Senate HELP Committee Wednesday at 10 a.m.