10.30.20

Murray Keeps Spotlight On Trump Administration’s COVID-19 Interference Following Additional Reports of Pressure On CDC Experts

Murray presses VP Pence on report that Administration officials tried to pressure CDC to approve baseless statement saying hotels were best way to protect migrant children from COVID-19

 

Murray has launched the Save Our Science Political Interference Tracker, and introduced the STOP Act as she pushes to fight political meddling with transparency and accountability

 

Murray: “This alarming pattern is putting lives at risk, especially at time when it is more important than ever that we foster public trust in our scientific agencies and their decisions…”

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, once more called on the Trump Administration to halt its political interference in the nation’s COVID-19 response. In a new letter to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 Task Force, Senator Murray criticized the Administration following a report from the Washington Post that Trump Administration officials tried to pressure experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to sign onto a statement claiming that housing migrant children in hotels was the best way to protect them against COVID-19—a statement with no basis in scientific fact.

 

“This is far from the only instance of political interference from the Trump White House that has hampered the country’s COVID-19 response. This alarming pattern is putting lives at risk, especially at time when it is more important than ever that we foster public trust in our scientific agencies and their decisions regarding public health guidance, the evaluation and eventual distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, and more. This requires that we insulate these agencies from political interference, especially from the White House, which has a disastrous record of interference that spans the entire pandemic response. That is why I urge you to immediately stop pressuring CDC scientists to sign this declaration that has no scientific merit and put these children at more risk,” wrote Senator Murray.


This is just the latest letter from Senator Murray who has been waging an ongoing campaign against the Trump Administration’s rampant political interference in the scientific work of public health agencies on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. She sent a similar letter earlier this month in response to reports of political meddling, and launched the  Save Our Science (SOS) Political Interference Tracker, a website tracking over 30 instances of such reports so far since the start of the crisis.

 

She has also introduced the STOP Act, legislation to fight political interference in the pandemic response by establishing stronger oversight.  The STOP Act would create a task force of the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee charged with conducting a thorough investigation into any political interference with decisions made by scientific agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the pandemic response. These reports would be released to committees of jurisdiction and could be made public, and the task force would have full discretion to release any information that it deems is in the public interest and may be important to public safety.

 

See the full text of the letter below and a PDF HERE.

 

October 29, 2020

 

The Honorable Mike Pence
Vice President of the United States
The White House
Office of the Vice President
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

 

Dear Vice President Pence:

 

I write to you regarding a concerning new report of White House interference with decision making at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surrounding the appropriate handling of migrant children being detained by the Trump Administration. This follows a previous letter I sent to you on October 16th regarding interference in the COVID-19 response. In that letter, I referenced separate reports of your role in pressuring CDC to inappropriately use the agency’s emergency powers under Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act to close the northern and southern borders and called on you to immediately cease interfering with public health decision making.[1] However, in the short time since sending that letter, yet another report has surfaced regarding interference that has continued to plague our country’s ability to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 23, 2020, the Washington Post reported the Trump White House is attempting to compel CDC officials to sign a declaration stating placing migrant children in hotels is the best way to protect detained migrant children from COVID-19.[2] This claim lacks scientific merit, and asking CDC scientists to lend support to this otherwise unfounded claim represents another instance of dangerous and misguided interference in the scientific work of our public health agencies for political reasons.

 

Presently, migrant children are detained in licensed shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Earlier this summer, the Administration started housing children in hotels due to overcrowding in these shelters overseen by HHS and as a supposed countermeasure to COVID-19 outbreaks in the shelters. However, in early September, a federal judge ordered the Trump Administration to stop this practice and remove the detained migrant children from hotels as soon as possible after finding that the Administration could provide no evidence to support its public health justifications for the action.[3] In response to this decision, and to seemingly justify and resume this practice, the Trump White House has reportedly pressured CDC to sign a declaration stating there is a public health basis for the claim that hotels are the best way to protect migrant children from COVID-19. In reality, there is no such basis. If there was sound evidence to support these claims, surely the Administration would have provided such evidence in court. These hotels are reportedly open to the public and do not provide decreased exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, whereas the shelters overseen by HHS are licensed and run by individuals with specific training, the hotels are run by third-party contractors with minimal training. Finally, the licensed shelters overseen by HHS are expected to provide access to legal services, education, and other programming that is unlikely to be provided in a hotel run by a third party contractor. That is why several CDC officials have reportedly declined to sign the declaration. Commandeering the scientists at the CDC to issue support for this effort is unacceptable.

 

This is far from the only instance of political interference from the Trump White House that has hampered the country’s COVID-19 response. This alarming pattern is putting lives at risk, especially at time when it is more important than ever that we foster public trust in our scientific agencies and their decisions regarding public health guidance, the evaluation and eventual distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, and more. This requires that we insulate these agencies from political interference, especially from the White House, which has a disastrous record of interference that spans the entire pandemic response. That is why I urge you to immediately stop pressuring CDC scientists to sign this declaration that has no scientific merit and put these children at more risk.

 

Sincerely,

                                   

Patty Murray  

United States Senator                                                                                                            

 

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[1]https://www.help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/201016%20Letter%20to%20Pence%20Overrule%20CDC%20Decisions%20V5_signed.pdf

[2]https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/10/23/immigrant-minors-hotels-trump/

[3]https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/judge-orders-us-to-stop-detaining-migrant-children-in-hotels/2020/09/04/fbe23f8e-ef13-11ea-bd08-1b10132b458f_story.html