Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of almost 70,000 Americans as of Monday afternoon, the Trump administration has banned members of their Coronavirus response task force from testifying to Congress through at least the end of the month. The administration’s stated reasoning is that the officials should be free to focus their time and energy directly on the response to the crisis, but they seem willfully ignorant of the crucial role of adequate information about the situation while formulating a response. Examining what’s been done and what might be next is not frivolous while the circumstances as-is claim the lives of thousands of Americans a day.
Perhaps the de facto insistence otherwise from the White House is a result of their belligerent self-confidence. The new testimony guidelines flatly prohibit every member of the White House’s Coronavirus task force from appearing before Congress through at least the end of May. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department have all been admonished to accept no more than a total of four hearing invitations each through the end of the month, with one each for the respective departments’ primary House and Senate authorizing committees and appropriations subcommittees.
The guidance reads, in part:
‘The demands on agencies’ staff and resources are extraordinary in this current crisis. Agencies must maximize their resources for COVID-19 response efforts and treat hearing requests accordingly.’
As one senior administration official put it:
‘We’re telling agencies that during this unprecedented time our resources need to be dedicated toward the coronavirus. At this stage we really need everybody manning their stations and prioritizing coronavirus response work.’
Again though — understanding what’s been done and the effects of what’s been done — or what hasn’t been done — is not a frivolous undertaking. Americans are dying in large numbers in the wake of the Coronavirus response decisions that have been previously undertaken. Americans should not be expected to blindly accept those decisions in the name of efficiency.
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere has insisted:
‘While the Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at Congressional hearings.’
Actually, if the information that those officials can provide could be crucial to finding and fixing gaps in the current federal Coronavirus response, then their appearances before Congress would most certainly not be counterproductive.
It’s worth noting — Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health has been scheduled for an appearance before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on May 12. Since he’s a leading member of the White House Coronavirus response task force, it’s not immediately clear how the new guidelines for Congressional testimony might affect that planned hearing.
Going forward, Congressional Democrats have already discussed the need for an investigation of the Coronavirus response failures of the president and his closest political allies. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), for instance, has suggested a 9/11-style investigative commission.