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Pallone & DeGette Demand Briefing from Azar Following Alarming New Reports of Political Interference

Sep 14, 2020
Press Release
Press Reports Detail Efforts by Trump Administration Political Appointees to Muzzle Public Health Officials and Interfere with Scientific Information on COVID-19

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) called for an immediate briefing with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar following a series of alarming new reports detailing ongoing efforts by Trump Administration political appointees to muzzle public health officials and interfere with scientific reports on COVID-19 public health information. The Committee leaders’ briefing request follows their call in July for Azar to either stand up to protect public health or step aside as the country’s top health official.

“We are concerned that this unprecedented attempt to undermine our nation’s public health is either happening with your approval or rogue political appointees are taking actions behind your back. Either way, these actions are doing grave harm to the very public health agencies you lead and threatening the health of the nation,” Pallone and DeGette wrote to Azar. “Congress and the American people deserve to know if you approved these egregious actions by these political appointees, and if it was done without your knowledge, what actions you will take to ensure that it never happens again. It is long past time that you stand up for public health.”

This weekend, Politico reported that senior HHS political appointees have demanded to review and sought to change scientific reports prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, known as the “voice of CDC,” have been published by CDC for 60 years. According to press reports, HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo—a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background—attempted to add caveats to CDC’s findings, change reports retroactively, and even tried to delay the release of certain reports, including one that addressed how doctors were prescribing hydroxychloroquine. 

Additionally, a fellow political appointee and aide to Mr. Caputo, Dr. Paul Alexander, reportedly berated CDC scientists in an email to CDC Director Robert Redfield for purportedly attempting to “hurt the President” and called on Redfield to retroactively modify two reports, claiming they “undermined Trump’s push to reopen schools.”

A separate report earlier in the week detailed Dr. Alexander’s attempts to control the public statements made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.  Among other intrusive tactics, Dr. Alexander reportedly instructed staff at the National Institutes of Health about what Dr. Fauci should say during interviews, promoting statements and positions expressed by President Trump that are contrary to scientific evidence.

“The American people have suffered the consequences of the destructive political attacks on HHS public health agencies and experts,” Pallone and DeGette continued in their letter to Azar. “We have called on you to uphold your solemn oath of office to protect the nation’s health or step aside. Time and time again, you have failed to defend your own public health institutions and officials, and have allowed the Administration to promote politics over science during our nation’s pandemic response. Now, we demand a briefing from you by September 18, 2020, as to how you intend to fulfill your oath.”

In their letter, the Committee leaders requested that Azar be prepared to address several key questions during the briefing, including:

  • Were you aware of any actions taken by political officials within HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs to review, alter, or otherwise undermine the scientific integrity of CDC’s report process and publications, and did you authorize these actions, as reported?
  • Will you commit to restoring the scientific integrity and autonomy of the nation’s public health agencies and experts so that they may operate free from political interference? 
  • What steps will you take to prohibit the involvement of political appointees in matters that have been and must be driven by science?
  • What steps will you take to convince the American people that you are working to serve in the best interest of their health and well-being and not merely at the political whims of the President?

To read the full letter, click HERE.