Lawmakers demand answers on CDC being sidelined amid global crisis

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.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), two of the top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce committee – which oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding an explanation as to why, during the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump Administration has sidelined the agency responsible for responding to such a crisis.

“We write to express our concerns regarding reports that the Trump Administration has repeatedly sidelined [CDC] during the [COVID-19] pandemic,” the lawmakers 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 to Azar, DeGette and Pallone cited several troubling actions that the Trump Administration has taken recently that appear to have suppressed CDC’s role in responding to the ongoing 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,” DeGette and Pallone continued. “Alarmingly, thisis 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 lawmakers went on to note that during a committee hearing last week CDC Director Robert Redfield refused to say when he had last spoken with the president, raising further concerns that CDC has been sidelined despite the growing need for a nationwide response to the virus.

“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 thismission, to contribute to the national COVID-19 response, and provide evidence-informed public health guidance to the nation,” DeGette and Pallone wrote.  “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.” 

To ensure our nation’s top scientific and public health expertise remain at the forefront of the ongoing response to COVID-19, DeGette and Pallone requested that Azar provide them responses to a series of questions included in the letter by July 15, 2020.

To read the full letter, click HERE