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Pallone and DeGette to Azar: Why is the Administration Sidelining CDC in the Nation’s COVID-19 Response?

Jun 30, 2020
Press Release
“It is clear that CDC is being positioned as a scapegoat for the Administration’s own COVID-19 pandemic response failures.”

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today expressing concern that the Trump Administration has sidelined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening the nation’s health and safety.

“We write to express our concerns regarding reports that the Trump Administration has repeatedly sidelined [CDC] during the [COVID-19] pandemic,” Pallone and DeGette wrote.  “For more than 70 years, CDC has provided an integral voice of science to address public health concerns and guide response efforts during times of acute health threats to the country.  Alarmingly, as COVID-19 has spread across the United States, claiming more than 126,000 lives, CDC officials have reportedly stated that White House decisions—driven by politics instead of science—have constrained attempts to mount a coordinated response.”

In their letter, the Democratic Committee leaders outlined several troubling actions taken by the Trump Administration that appear to have suppressed CDC’s role in responding to the pandemic, including:

  • The Administration severely restricted CDC’s public communications including by placing CDC’s media briefings on a hiatus between March 10 and June 11 and muzzling federal scientists by requiring that their public communications related to COVID-19 undergo White House clearance;
  • The White House obstructed CDC’s reopening recommendations, shelving CDC-drafted guidance, forcing state officials, business owners, faith and education leaders to fend for themselves, and endangered the health of faith communities in altering CDC guidance for churches and other places of worship; 
  • The Administration interfered with CDC travel recommendations, including delaying a travel advisory for Europe that allowed approximately 66,000 travelers per day from Europe to continue entering the United States for six more days, likely providing additional entry of COVID-19 throughout the country in the interim;
  • President Trump and Administration officials repeatedly contradicted and undermined CDC public health experts—including allegedly threatening to fire CDC’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, after she warned the public of possible severe disruption to everyday life in the United States—likely resulting in a chilling effect among public health officials within the Administration; and
  • The Administration spent millions of dollars on a new public health surveillance reporting mechanism, which appears to duplicate existing CDC reporting systems and may have resulted in unnecessary confusion and additional burden for hospitals in the midst of the pandemic.

“It is clear that CDC is being positioned as a scapegoat for the Administration’s own COVID-19 pandemic response failures,” Pallone and DeGette continued.  “Alarmingly, this is all the more evident by recent reports that White House officials are discussing ‘launching an in-depth evaluation of the agency,’ narrowing its mission, and even ‘trying to embed more political appointees’ within CDC.”

The Committee leaders also noted that CDC Director Redfield refused to tell the Committee when he last spoke with the President during a hearing last week, raising further concerns that CDC is sidelined in the Administration’s COVID-19 response.

“As Secretary of HHS, it is your duty to support the Department’s mission ‘to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans.’  It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure CDC is not undermined for political purposes, but rather is empowered to help fulfill this mission, to contribute to the national COVID-19 response, and provide evidence-informed public health guidance to the nation,” Pallone and DeGette concluded.  “Now more than ever, the American people need a robust and effective CDC that is not repeatedly undermined by others in the Administration, including the President and Vice President.”

In order to ensure that CDC’s scientific and public health expertise remains at the forefront of the nation’s COVID-19 response, the Committee leaders requested responses from Secretary Azar to a series of questions by July 15, 2020.

To read the full letter, click HERE.

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