Select Subcommittee Holds Hearing on the Coronavirus Crisis

Legislation | October 02, 2020 | by Andrea Price-Carter

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis

Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The hearing was an opportunity for the Select Subcommittee to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on America, and the Administration’s response to the public health emergency. This is the first time Secretary Azar has testified before Congress since February, when the United States had fewer than 20 confirmed deaths.

Overall, the hearing was extremely partisan. Democrats’ consistently raised concerns about the Administration’s refusal to provide adequate public health information and implement a comprehensive national plan to contain the virus. Republicans made every attempt to dispel any efforts that attempted to show that President Trump’s leadership failed to provide an adequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Select Subcommittee Chairman James Clyburn (D-SC) stated in his opening remarks, “President Trump or his appointees downplayed the danger of the virus to the public, made false and misleading statements about the science, and misstated key facts about the Administration’s response.” He also released a new Democratic staff analysis examining instances of political interference in the Trump Administration’s decisions over the course of the pandemic. The analysis found at least 47 separate incidents of political interference in the Administration’s coronavirus response spanning from February through September 2020. The analysis also shows instances where President Trump and the Administration had authorized questionable virus treatments over the objections of scientists; resisted efforts to ensure the safe development of a vaccine; and diverted $265 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration for an ad campaign to “defeat despair and inspire hope” weeks before Election Day.

The Ranking Republican Leader of the Select Subcommittee Steve Scalise (R-LA) released the Republican staff report, “President Trump’s Plan: A Whole of America Response.” The report dispelled the Democrats’ partisan attacks on the Trump Administration’s leadership and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It highlights what they say was “President Trump’s swift action that resulted in the delivery and production of PPE, a testing system and the launch of Operation Warp Speed to deliver a safe and effective vaccine in record time.” Furthermore, it details “how President Trump took unprecedented action to harness the full power of the federal government and the private sector to procure and manufacture lifesaving personal protective equipment.”

The Republican staff report also notes how President Trump is working with experts to bring a vaccine to the American people faster than ever before by cutting unnecessary red tape while ensuring safety and efficacy. Secretary Azar responded to Democrats’ concerns that President Trump might try to rush out a COVID-19 vaccine before it is ready, and told the Subcommittee, “science would govern whether the department approves a vaccine and career officials at the Food and Drug Administration, led by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, would decide if a vaccine was safe and effective.” He also added, “other officials, such as himself, bring years of experience to the table that can be useful in the debate over approving a vaccine.”

Chairman Clyburn concluded the hearing by placing into the hearing record a July 7, 2020, JAMA article “Nursing Home Care in Crisis in the Wake of COVID-19”and emphasized the article demonstrates skilled nursing facilities are in crisis because the virus spreads from the community to nursing homes via staff without sufficient PPE. He urged the administration to implement a national coronavirus strategy that must include efficient targeting of tests, and distribution of masks and PPE.

Ranking Member Scalise concluded the hearing by making a statement about “how President Trump worked tirelessly to protect the vulnerable populations in nursing homes from COVID-19. Governors of five Democratic states – New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan – ordered nursing homes to admit COVID-19 positive patients regardless of their ability to properly quarantine or treat them. These orders were in contraction to the Administrations guidance.”