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White House blocks Fauci from testifying before Congress

House Democrats seeking Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: White House seeks to clarify press release claiming pandemic over | Fauci: COVID vaccine likely not available until next year Fauci: COVID-19 vaccine likely not available until next year Kushner told Woodward in April Trump was 'getting the country back from the doctors' MORE's testimony on the coronavirus crisis have been rebuffed by the White House, which is blocking the nation’s top infectious disease expert from appearing next week on Capitol Hill.

Democrats had invited Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, to appear Wednesday before an Appropriations subcommittee examining the Trump administration's response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 64,000 people in the United States.

Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the panel, said Friday that Democrats "have been informed by an administration official that the White House has blocked Dr. Fauci from testifying."

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Moments later the White House affirmed its position, saying that it would be "counterproductive" to have officials involved in efforts to defeat the novel coronavirus testify at congressional hearings at this time but that the administration would work with Congress to make them available “at the appropriate time.”

"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," White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. "We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time."

Next week’s House hearing was scheduled by Rep. Rosa DeLaura (D-Conn.), who heads the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over health care issues. The meeting aims to examine the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, even while the House remains in recess. House lawmakers are not expected back in Washington before May 11.

Absent Fauci, the sole witness slated to testify is Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional witnesses are possible.

After the White House blocked Fauci's participation, DeLauro and Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyOffice of Special Counsel widens Pompeo probe into Hatch Act violations  Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight Top House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech MORE (D-N.Y.), the Appropriations Committee chairwoman, issued a statement that avoided a direct mention of the controversy, but stressed the importance of providing the public with "a clear-eyed view" of what tactical steps federal policymakers are taking to contain the coronavirus and expedite a national recovery.

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Those steps include the near-term strategy for testing, tracing and treating those infected; a medium-term plan for vaccine development and distribution; and a long-term blueprint for boosting the nation's public health infrastructure in preparation for the next pandemic, the Democratic lawmakers said.

"The people of this country deserve a federal government that is up-to-date, modernized, and prepared to protect lives,” they added.

Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert for almost 40 years, has been a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, meeting daily with Vice President Pence, Deborah Birx and other members.

He has consistently offered fact-based assessments of the U.S. response to the pandemic, at times contradicting Trump’s pronouncements. Last month, Fauci told Time magazine that the U.S. needed to significantly ramp up its testing capabilities in order to contain future outbreaks of COVID-19, a statement Trump said he disagreed with.

The president has spoken positively about Fauci in public, and the two appear to have a genial relationship. But Trump unleashed speculation last month that he could oust the top official after he retweeted a conservative’s call to “#FireFauci.”

The White House swiftly denied that Trump planned to dismiss Fauci, attributing the talk to media speculation.

Fauci regularly appears on cable news and other forms of media to field questions about COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He often participated in the White House coronavirus task force briefings that were a near-daily occurrence before the administration scaled them back over the past week.

Updated at 7:20 p.m.