The White House is blocking Anthony S. Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee investigating the coronavirus outbreak and response, arguing that it would be “counterproductive” for him to appear next week while in the midst of participating in the government’s responses to the pandemic.
The White House issued a statement about Fauci’s testimony shortly after The Washington Post published a story Friday afternoon quoting a spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, who said the White House was refusing to allow Fauci to appear at a subcommittee hearing next week.
“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 counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.”
In fact, Fauci is expected to appear at a Senate hearing related to testing the following week, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
“It’s not muzzling, it’s not blocking, it’s simply trying to ensure we’re able to balance the need for oversight, the legitimate need for oversight, with their responsibilities to handle Covid-19 work at their respective agencies and departments,” said the official, who noted that health risks entailed in moving around in public places were also a factor.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been a prominent face in the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus as a lead scientist in the coronavirus task force.
He has walked a fine line in delivering scientific information to the public that at times has contradicted President Trump’s statements. Trump at one point retweeted a Twitter post that called for Fauci to be fired, but he later denied he was considering firing him. Fauci has urged extreme caution as some cities and states move to reopen businesses, warning that doing so imprudently could lead to a resurgence of the coronavirus.
When Trump began holding daily briefings about the pandemic, Fauci was a frequent presence, answering numerous questions and offering medical expertise. As time went on, though, Fauci appeared at fewer and fewer of the briefings. His more cautious approach had often clashed with Trump’s eagerness to reopen states and businesses as quickly as possible.
A spokeswoman for Fauci did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The House Appropriations subcommittee will instead hear from Thomas Frieden, who led the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration, said committee spokesman Evan Hollander. The panel could potentially seek to hear from other witnesses as well.
Although the House will not be in session next week, lawmakers decided to schedule an in-person hearing for Wednesday before the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, education and related agencies, chaired by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.). Lawmakers who choose to attend can do so despite the House being out of session.
The House and Senate have been essentially closed since late March, except for lawmakers periodically returning to the Capitol to approve massive spending bills that have totaled nearly $3 trillion so far. There has been little congressional oversight of all the spending or the White House’s actions, even as initiatives such as the small-business Paycheck Protection Program have run into trouble, with large businesses tapping loans designed for smaller companies.
Weeks have passed without any public hearings, which lawmakers have traditionally used to question administration officials about policies or spending plans.
Democrats are eager to return to conducting oversight of the massive spending and the administration’s response, and multiple House committees are likely to seek testimony from administration officials in coming weeks.
In a statement Friday evening, DeLauro and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) said that “Congress and the American public deserve a clear-eyed view of the path forward for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Their statement did not address their inability to hear from Fauci next week.
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