Senior House appropriators on Wednesday blasted the Trump administration for blocking the government’s top infectious disease expert from testifying at their first oversight hearing on the coronavirus response — and for lacking a plan to ramp up enough testing to safely reopen the country.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the panel overseeing HHS, said the decision to bar Anthony Fauci from testifying showed the administration is “just frightened of oversight.” The ranking Republican, Tom Cole (R-Okla.), added the decision robbed the committee of the information they need in deciding future health spending.
“I think it would have been good testimony, useful to this committee and to the country,” he said. “Frankly, this subcommittee, more than perhaps any other, going forward, will need administration input as we make the important decisions in front of us.”
The White House blocked Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, from testifying last week, saying it was counter-productive. President Donald Trump went further on Tuesday, saying the decision was because his Democratic critics control the House; Fauci is set to join other senior federal health officials at a hearing on the pandemic in the GOP-controlled Senate next week.
The House panel instead heard testimony from Obama administration CDC Director Tom Frieden and Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Both said the U.S. needs to at least triple its current level of testing in order to safely reopen, adding there appears to be no comprehensive federal plan or enough medical supplies to do so.
Cole also lamented testing delays over the last few months that he said have set the country back. About 1.75 million diagnostic tests have been processed in the past week. Frieden and Rivers said at least 3.5 million people should be tested weekly.
“We were a little slow getting our private sector partners into the fight,” Cole said. “I don’t think we mobilized them nearly as rapidly as we probably should have, in retrospect.”