Lawmakers to Azar: ‘Stand up to protect public health or step aside’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar today expressing growing concerns over the Trump Administration’s continued efforts to sideline public health officials who should be leading our nation’s response to the coronavirus.
“As the top health official in the country, you have a duty to protect the health and well-being of all Americans,” DeGette and Pallone wrote to Azar. “Instead, you have spent the last six months promoting politics over science in our nation’s COVID-19 pandemic response. It is time for you to either stand up to protect public health or step aside as the nation’s top health official.”
The letter follows a similar letter DeGette and Pallone wrote to Azar last month expressing concern over the administration’s decision to sideline the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and demanded information to ensure scientific and public health expertise remained at the forefront of the nation’s COVID-19 response. Azar has not responded.
“Throughout the national public health emergency, you have failed to respond to the administration’s continued escalation of disputes with CDC—an operating division under your authority—including by allowing Trump Administration officials to repeatedly undermine key CDC public health guidance,” the lawmakers wrote.
DeGette and Pallone are the chairs of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee – which oversees HHS and CDC – and the broader Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively.
In their letter to Azar, DeGette and Pallone cited several recent incidents where the Trump Administration has attacked the CDC, including:
- President Trump publicly condemned CDC’s guidance for reopening schools as “impractical” and “expensive;”
- Vice President Pence further dismissed CDC’s guidance for reopening schools, saying it should not be a “barrier” for schools to reopen;
- White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany joined in undermining the CDC’s guidance, stating during in a press conference that “science should not stand in the way” of reopening schools;
- HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Caputo reportedly agreed with a senior HHS adviser who accused CDC of “undermining the President” by releasing a scientific report on COVID-19’s potential risks to pregnant women; and
- Caputo publicly criticized CDC, stating that it “just cannot keep up with this pandemic."
“While attacks against CDC are concerning on their own, the Trump Administration’s attacks extend beyond CDC to individual public health leaders as well,” DeGette and Pallone wrote. “Alarmingly, you have done nothing to protect your own staff when the health of the nation depends on their expertise now more than ever. Instead, you have allowed President Trump and other Administration officials to perpetually discredit HHS scientists.”
In their letter, DeGette and Pallone went on to describe their concern with the Trump Administration’s efforts to criticize and scapegoat public health civil servants, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as political cover for its own botched pandemic response.
“These examples are merely the latest in a series of instances where you have remained silent as the Trump Administration has launched unfounded attacks on the scientific expertise of HHS,” DeGette and Pallone concluded. “Your lack of leadership demonstrates a dangerous disregard for scientific expertise and an abdication of your responsibilities, jeopardizing the health and safety of all Americans by undermining our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation, your department, and its public health experts need the leadership you swore to provide as Secretary of HHS. The time is past due to uphold your commitment to this oath.”
To read the full letter, click here.