09.23.20

Murray Outlines Trump Administration’s COVID-19 Failures, Pushes to Prevent Further Political Interference

Murray details missteps of Trump Administration’s failed COVID-19 response as death toll tops 200,000

 

Trump Administration has repeatedly downplayed the crisis while undermining and overruling experts at public health agencies on the frontlines of the nation’s response

 

Murray introduced the STOP Act yesterday, legislation to provide accountability and transparency to end political interference in the COVID-19 response

 

Murray: “So much has changed since those early days of this crisis… But one thing hasn’t changed: President Trump is still putting politics ahead of public health.”

 

 Murray: “The Trump Administration didn’t just start its political interference yesterday—and we can’t just expect them to cut it out to tomorrow. Congress has to make it stop.”

 

***Watch Senator Murray’s full opening remarks HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) –  Today, at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s latest hearing with members of the COVID-19 task force, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Committee, gave a detailed rundown of  the Trump Administration’s failed response to the COVID-19 pandemic—from its lack of urgency to its abundance of political interference.

 

“Let’s be clear, we had a window to prepare for this, and the Administration missed it. We had a pandemic playbook that warned against some of the very problems we were facing, and they ignored it. We had a clear understanding of how dangerous this disease could be, and they downplayed it…


“So much has changed since those early days of this crisis. The number of people infected in our country has passed six and a half million. The number of people killed has passed 200,000. The number of people without a job and without health insurance has skyrocketed. Businesses have been shuttered. And gatherings from weddings, to birthdays, to graduations—even funerals—have been delayed or cancelled. But one thing hasn’t changed: President Trump is still putting politics ahead of public health.”

 

After outlining the Trump Administration’s long record of interfering in the COVID-19 response Senator Murray called on Republicans to support the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act, which she introduced yesterday with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and 32 of their Democratic colleagues.

 

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.

 

“Any one of these examples of political pressure would be alarming on their own, but together they paint a clear pattern of interference that is downright terrifying. The Trump Administration didn’t just start its political interference yesterday—and we can’t just expect them to cut it out to tomorrow. Congress has to make it stop. The President has made it painfully clear where he stands when it comes to picking between politics and science, politics and public health, politics and the safety of our country. Now each of us must do the same.”

 

During questioning, Senator Murray pressed CDC Director Dr. Redfield about the agency’s reversal regarding recent scientific guidance on COVID-19 testing and transmissibility and about how he would stand up to political interference from the Trump Administration.

 

Over the past several weeks, there has been a barrage of reports regarding the Trump Administration interfering in the scientific work of experts at the nation’s public health agencies, including:

 

-         September, 18: The New York Times reports that Secretary Azar has barred the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from signing any new rules without his approval.

-         September, 18: The New York Times and Washington Post report further on how Trump Administration political appointees tried to silence Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts.

-         September, 15: Politico expands on previous reporting to note that Secretary Azar overruled the head of the FDA when Azar 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 conspiracy 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 authorize 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 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.

-         September, 4: President Trump contradicts his own experts, and says a vaccine will be ready in October.

-         August, 26: CNN reports that the CDC was pressured by the Trump Administration to alter its testing guidance to be more restrictive. (this guidance has since been reversed)

-         August, 22: President Trump tweets accusing the FDA of holding back a vaccine, writing, “The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives! @SteveFDA”

 

Video of Senator Murray’s remarks HERE.

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks below.

 

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses for joining us once again.

 

“Before we begin, I want to acknowledge the passing of Justice Ginsburg— a friend, a role model, and a woman who opened doors for all the rest of us with her genius and her relentless pursuit of justice, freedom, and equality.

“This appointment to our nation’s highest court could not be more pivotal—especially as we face down a historic public health crisis.

 

“We are in the middle of a pandemic that has cost more than 200,000 American lives, on this Administration’s watch, has left nearly 7 million people across our country with new pre-existing conditions, and 5.4 million people without coverage. Yet none of that has stopped Republicans from using every tool at their disposal—including the Supreme Court—to attack health care and protections for families across the country.

 

“I’m not going to let anyone forget that many of the same Republicans who are considering filling this vacancy—with a nominee virtually guaranteed to tip the balance of the court against peoples’ health care in the critical case coming up this year—previously said in March of 2016 that the American people should have a voice in the selection of the next Justice, and said many times over the past few years they support protections for pre-existing conditions.

 

“The entire country is going to be hearing, nonstop, about what another Supreme Court nominee hand-picked by President Trump would mean for their health care and their rights.

 

“Now—back in January, I worked to organize the first bipartisan briefings with Administration officials about the COVID-19 threat, and I wrote to Secretary Azar shortly afterwards asking what steps we were taking—and specifically asking about our diagnostic testing capacity.

 

“At a hearing in February, I pressed him directly about issues with the tests, and I asked him point blank if our country was ready.

 

“Tragically, the clearest answer I got to that question didn’t come from the Trump Administration—it came from families back in Washington state, and it came as a resounding ‘no.’

 

“By March, I was hearing from people in my state who believed they had been exposed but couldn’t get tested, and who had been tested, but were left waiting for results. I was hearing from schools in my state—including my granddaughter’s—that were cancelling classes. And I was seeing nothing from the Trump Administration to inspire confidence. 

 

“Let’s be clear, we had a window to prepare for this, and the Administration missed it. We had a pandemic playbook that warned against some of the very problems we were facing, and they ignored it. We had a clear understanding of how dangerous this disease could be, and they downplayed it.

 

“So much has changed since those early days of this crisis. The number of people infected in our country has passed six and a half million. The number of people killed has passed 200,000. The number of people without a job and without health insurance has skyrocketed. Businesses have been shuttered.

“And gatherings from weddings, to birthdays, to graduations—even funerals—have been delayed or cancelled. But one thing hasn’t changed: President Trump is still putting politics ahead of public health.

 

“He is still downplaying this crisis and falsely claiming it will just go away, and we are ‘turning the final corner,’ When the reality is: cases and deaths are still alarmingly high; testing and contact tracing are frustratingly inadequate; the health disparities Black, Latino, and Tribal communities and other communities of color face are still severe; and we need to prepare for the upcoming flu season—when experts warn we could see another wave of cases.

 

“And yet, President Trump is still trying to sabotage the work of our scientists and public health experts for his own political ends. As the leaders of health agencies on the frontline of our response to this pandemic, our witnesses have an important, firsthand—perspective on this interference.

“Dr. Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration has a critical role to play in evaluating the safety and efficacy of treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines.

 

“The American people are counting on you to uphold sound scientific principles and the work of agency scientists. So it’s incredibly alarming that this Administration has undermined public trust in the work of your agency by spreading conspiracies, and pressuring the agency to ignore the science.

 

“Earlier this year the Administration dangerously promoted hydroxychloroquine—an unproven treatment for COVID-19. But even more recently, the Administration pressured FDA to rush through an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma therapy.

 

“And last month, Secretary Azar reportedly overruled you directly, and undermined FDA’s authority when he loosened oversight of lab developed tests—a move that allows unreliable tests to flood the market.

 

“Then, last week, Secretary Azar further undercut your agency by completely barring FDA from signing any new rules without his approval—an alarming power grab for a political appointee to make in the middle of a pandemic

 

“Dr. Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plays a critical role providing data and science-based public health guidance that families, public health professionals, researchers, and health care providers rely on for life and death decisions. Yet the Trump Administration has repeatedly, recklessly interfered with those efforts.

 

“We have seen the White House block and contradict critical guidance on reopening for communities and returning to school. We have seen the President spread conspiracies about the death count, and misinformation about masks.

 

“And Trump Administration officials have reportedly taken unprecedented steps to hijack the CDC’s trusted voice, and undermine its credibility.

“The Administration ignored the objections of CDC scientists and posted guidance under CDC’s name advising restricted access to testing, a move that was immediately criticized by public health experts, and has since, thankfully, been reversed.


“Political appointees have demanded to oversee and manipulate the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.


“And last week you confirmed that the Administration took hundreds of millions of dollars out of your budget for a feel-good pandemic ad campaign, spearheaded by a Trump official that believed CDC was part of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy, in which CDC, inexplicably, has no role, and which they have not even indicated will be reviewed by your agency to ensure it is based in facts and science.

 

“As if this all weren’t bad enough—after your testimony before Congress last week, the President said you were ‘confused’ , ‘made a mistake’, and had given ‘incorrect information.’

 

“All of this also raises serious concerns about the agency’s decision Monday to put out a guidance with new information on how this virus is transmitted, only to immediately reverse course and pull it down.

 

“And Dr. Fauci, you’ve been a trusted voice on public health issues in this country for decades. Yet Trump Administration officials have tried unsuccessfully to dictate talking points to you and undermine your credibility through opposition research, and in an op-ed. The President himself even retweeted a message calling for you to be fired.

“Any one of these examples of political pressure would be alarming on their own, but together they paint a clear pattern of interference that is downright terrifying.

“The Trump Administration didn’t just start its political interference yesterday—and we can’t just expect them to cut it out to tomorrow. Congress has to make it stop.


“The President has made it painfully clear where he stands when it comes to picking between politics and science, politics and public health, politics and the safety of our country. Now each of us must do the same.


“Yesterday Senator Schumer and I, along with over 30 of our Democratic colleagues, introduced the Science and Transparency Over Politics Act. The STOP ACT would create a taskforce to conduct a thorough investigation into political interference in our public health agencies. And I hope every Republican who has spoken about how important it is we stick to the science, will support that bill.

“Because you cannot stand for science, if you will not stand against political interference.


“I’m also going to be asking our witnesses more about this as well, because it’s critical we know what political pressure they have been under and what is being done to resist it.

 

“Finally, Mr. Chairman, as this may be our last hearing this Congress, I want to recognize the work we have done together on this Committee in your time as Chair. The list of major bipartisan bills we have gotten signed into law over the past few years: the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 21st Century Cures Act, the Opioid Crisis Response Act, Perkins CTE Reauthorization, speaks for itself.

 

“The kind of bipartisan approach we used to get those bills passed is going to be critical if we are finally going to take the steps we need to address the pain of this pandemic, Which is why the current state of discussions to pass more, much needed relief, is so frustrating. 

 

“After Democrats put forward a proposal in May, Republicans didn’t offer anything for months, And after they finally put forward their proposal—they didn’t then sit down with us to move toward common ground, instead they moved further away from us with their next proposal.


“After all the success we’ve had on this Committee, I think we’ve shown by example that’s just not how bipartisan negotiating works. And I am not done pushing for Republicans to come back to the table on a new COVID-19 package, put partisanship aside, put families first, and work together to respond to this pandemic with the kind of sweeping response that is so clearly needed. Thank you.”

 

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Murray details missteps of Trump Administration’s failed COVID-19 response as death toll tops 200,000

 



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