(Washington, D.C.) – Today, at a hearing of the Senate Labor, Health, and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee, ranking member U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) highlighted the many ways since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that President Trump has downplayed this crisis. She emphasized the importance of taking action to stop political interference from undermining the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts in light of the recurring reports of Trump Administration officials pressuring scientists and leaders at key public health agencies to modify their reports to match the President’s messaging. Senator Murray called for Republicans to work with Democrats on steps to stop political interference and provide transparency and accountability.
“The Trump Administration’s political meddling shows a dangerous disregard for truth, facts, science, and most importantly, people’s lives… The leaders of our public health agencies need to provide a full account of what political pressure has been applied, and what steps they are taking to make sure it doesn’t influence their work or the work of the agencies they lead. And Congress needs to act now, to demand the transparency we need to hold this Administration accountable,” said Senator Murray. “Democrats will be laying out steps soon for how we do just that—and I hope every Republican who has said they believe we need to follow the science, will prove it by working with us on this. Because you cannot be for science if you aren’t against political interference.”
Over the course of the past few weeks, several reports have detailed alarming and unprecedented instances of political meddling from the Trump Administration in the work of public health agencies at the forefront of the nation’s COVID-19 response.
– September, 15: Politico reports that Secretary Azar overruled the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when he moved to loosen oversight of COVID-19 testing and allow unreliable tests to flood the market.
– September, 14: The New York Times reports that the spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services has promoted false conspiracies theories about the work of experts and scientists at the nation’s public health agencies.
– September, 12: The New York Times reports that the Trump Administration pressured officials at the FDA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to approve convalescent plasma therapy before their review of its safety and effectiveness were complete.
– September, 11: Politico reports that politically appointed Trump Administration officials demanded oversight of reports from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts, and have worked to edit and append findings from CDC experts in its flagship scientific publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
– September, 9: Politico reports that a Trump Administration appointee was attempting to dictate talking points to NIH officials.
– August, 26: CNN reports that the CDC was pressured by the Trump Administration to alter its testing guidance to be more restrictive.
Senator Murray pressed CDC Director Dr. Redfield and Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Giroir about political interference during questioning, as well as the Trump Administration’s plans to move $250 million that Congress provided to fight COVID-19, and did not intend to be used to support the President’s reelection campaign.
In addition to addressing political interference and misinformation, Senator Murray also urged Republicans to work with Democrats on a broader COVID-19 response package. She criticized Republicans for wasting time and playing political games by putting forward increasingly inadequate proposals, and she outlined several of the key issues that need to be addressed in future legislation.
“When Democrats put forward the HEROES Act back in May, Republicans said there was no rush, and that they would wait and see if more aid was needed. When Republicans finally put forward a proposal months later, it was woefully inadequate to the crisis at hand. And while Democrats moved to find common ground and even offered to negotiate toward a lower topline number, Republicans refused that offer, and instead put forward a bill last week that moved even farther away from common ground. That is not serious negotiating, and the ideas they have put forward are not serious solutions. But the crisis we face remains deadly serious. We can’t afford to waste any more time on Republicans’ political games.”
Senator Murray also responded to a new vaccine distribution plan released by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense earlier today. She made clear that while it was a long overdue step forward, the document still falls far short from the compressive, end-to-end vaccines plan she has called for previously—including in the white paper she released earlier this year.
Watch video of Senator Murray’s remarks HERE.
Senator Murray’s full remarks are below.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you to our witnesses for joining us.
“As our country approaches a tragic milestone in this pandemic—200,000 dead—I want to recognize that our rising national death count represents countless personal losses, families have lost parents, grandparents, and children, communities have lost educators, health care providers, and other frontline workers, and people have not only lost loved ones, but many have lost the small solace of being able to visit and comfort those they care about in their final moments.
“My heart goes out to everyone struggling with the hardship caused by this virus, whether they are suffering with the loss of life or livelihood.
“You deserve leaders who take this crisis seriously, who take action to support and protect you, your family, and your community, who arm you with the facts you need to stay safe. Unfortunately, we have yet to see that leadership from this President.
“Like many Americans, I was deeply angered last week to hear President Trump admitting that even though he understood COVID-19 was ‘more deadly’ than ‘even your strenuous flu,’ he was intentionally ‘playing down’ this crisis. But I wasn’t surprised. These recordings aren’t a revelation. The reality has been painfully obvious for months.
“Early on President Trump not only claimed this virus was contained, controlled, and going away, he claimed it was a Democratic hoax.
“His Vice President wrote on op-ed arguing there would be no second wave—just before we saw a heartbreaking and record-breaking increase in new cases and deaths tear across the country.
“When it came to testing, President Trump didn’t just say he took no responsibility at all, he said he liked the numbers where they were, he said he wanted to slow down testing, and he blamed testing for rising case numbers.
“When it came to wearing masks he not only said that ‘masks cause problems too,’ he also shared a tweet saying masks represent a ‘culture of silence, slavery, and social death,’ and a video falsely claiming people don’t need to wear masks and that there is a cure.
“He’s made false claims on treatments as well, continuing to promote hydroxychloroquine, and has suggested we look at bleach as an option.
“And he is still downplaying this virus. He is still saying it will just go away. He is saying we are ‘rounding the final turn.’
“Dr. Fauci has made it clear that’s not true and pointed out that we have plateaued at around 40,000 cases a day, that daily deaths are still regularly around 1,000, and experts have warned that we still need to prepare for a fall wave that could coincide with flu season.
“But President Trump hasn’t been listening to the public health experts. He has been fighting them and suggesting FDA is part of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy, and CDC is overstating the death counts.
“But not only is he spreading inaccuracies and outright lies—at a time when truth is a matter of life and death, and trust in our public health agencies is paramount, his Administration has been recklessly interfering with the work of these agencies for political benefit to promote unproven treatments, alter CDC guidance on reopening and testing, and more.
“Just over the last week, we have learned that President Trump put pressure on NIH and FDA to authorize convalescent plasma as a treatment, and that political appointees at HHS have worked, unsuccessfully, to dictate talking points for Dr. Fauci, and have succeeded in demanding oversight of and changes to CDC’s flagship scientific publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“This publication is a cornerstone of public health work across the world. It is dangerous and unprecedented that political appointees are editing, censoring, and ultimately undermining a report intended to give families, public health professionals, researchers, and health care providers what they need: the truth.
“The Trump Administration’s political meddling shows a dangerous disregard for truth, facts, science, and most importantly, people’s lives.
“Data and science are key tools in our fight against any health crisis, and the damage being done to public trust in those tools by this Administration threatens to undermine our ability to respond to this pandemic, public trust in an eventual vaccine, and public health efforts for years to come.
“The Trump Administration needs to leave the science to the scientists, immediately, full stop.
“The leaders of our public health agencies need to provide a full account of what political pressure has been applied, and what steps they are taking to make sure it doesn’t influence their work or the work of the agencies they lead.
“And Congress needs to act now, to demand the transparency we need to hold this Administration accountable.
“Democrats will be laying out steps soon for how we do just that—and I hope every Republican who has said they believe we need to follow the science, will prove it by working with us on this.
“Because you cannot be for science if you aren’t against political interference.
“I also hope Republicans will come to the table to work with us in earnest on the larger COVID-19 package that our communities so desperately need.
“Unfortunately, they have refused to take this seriously so far.
“When Democrats put forward the HEROES Act back in May, Republicans said there was no rush, and that they would wait and see if more aid was needed.
“When Republicans finally put forward a proposal months later, it was woefully inadequate to the crisis at hand.
“And while Democrats moved to find common ground and even offered to negotiate toward a lower topline number, Republicans refused that offer, and instead put forward a bill last week that moved even farther away from common ground.
“That is not serious negotiating, and the ideas they have put forward are not serious solutions. But the crisis we face remains deadly serious. We can’t afford to waste any more time on Republicans’ political games.
“We need to stabilize the child care sector, and make sure schools can educate students safely, whether remotely or in person.
“We need to make significant investments in public health, particularly regarding testing, contact tracing, and distributing and administering a safe, effective, and trusted vaccine.
“And we need to demand the type of comprehensive national plan for those efforts that has been long overdue.
“The distribution plan CDC finally put out today is a long overdue step forward—but there is still more to do.
“I’m still reviewing this, and I’ll have more to say, but it’s clear this still is not the kind of comprehensive, end-to-end national plan I have called for and that we desperately need.
“We are still missing important details—on research and review—like what standards FDA would use to authorize a vaccine for emergency use; development—like how we make sure disparities are addressed in clinical trials; and manufacturing—like how we address supply chain issues and avoid bottlenecks; and we still need more details on addressing disparities.
“And, we also need to protect the safety and civil rights of those going to work, and provide relief to those who have lost their jobs.
“We need to support families struggling to make rent, to afford health care, and to get nutritional meals.
“We need to address the severe disparities we’re seeing and how much harder this crisis is hitting Black, Latino, and Tribal communities.
“We need to provide relief for our state, local, and Tribal governments.
“And last—but, as we have seen recently, certainly not least—we need to make sure, once and for all, that political interference from President Trump doesn’t further undermine our response to this crisis.
“I’ll have several questions about this for our witnesses shortly, but I hope we are able to get more than just answers in the days ahead.
“I hope we are able to come together to take action, before we lose any more time to save lives and prevent costly mistakes. Thank you.”