Trump officials cut testimony short at coronavirus hearing

Top Trump administration officials on Wednesday cut short their testimony at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the response to the coronavirus, with the White House saying they were needed at a meeting focused on the spreading virus.

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyPostmaster General warns that Postal Service will run out of money by end of fiscal year without aid Trump's IG firings prompt questions of whether more are coming Overnight Defense: 10,000 more National Guard troops to join coronavirus fight | Democrats float bill to restore Pentagon watchdog to virus oversight panel | Afghanistan releases 100 Taliban prisoners MORE (D-N.Y.) said at the start of the hearing that it would end an hour and a half early because President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license MORE called an “emergency” meeting with the witnesses, who are leading the government’s coronavirus response.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were testifying at the hearing. Both are members of the coronavirus task force.

ADVERTISEMENT

“This morning we were informed that President Trump and Vice President Pence have called our witnesses to an emergency meeting at the White House,” Maloney said. “We don't know the details, just that it is extremely urgent.”

At about 11:30 a.m., she ended questioning from lawmakers, saying she received notice from the White House that the witnesses needed to leave “now.”

“I don't know what's going on at the White House,” she said.

“There seems to be a great deal of confusion and a lack of coordination at the White House. I hope this does not reflect on the broader response to this crisis.”

A White House official told The Hill that the meeting was scheduled on Tuesday “and is part of the administration’s ongoing whole-of-government response to the coronavirus.”

Two people familiar with the matter questioned whether the meeting Maloney referenced was in fact an emergency, and it was unclear if it was separate from the daily 4 p.m. meetings that have been led by Pence.

ADVERTISEMENT

One official suggested the cited meeting may have been called to limit the time of the Oversight hearing, where officials were facing difficult questions from Democrats about the administration’s handling of the coronavirus.

Maloney also said the witnesses did not respond to requests for information the committee sent a week ago.

“We understand you are incredibly busy but a lot of this information should be at your fingertips,” she said.

Rep. Chip RoyCharles (Chip) Eugene RoyTop conservatives pen letter to Trump with concerns on fourth coronavirus relief bill The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Conservative lawmakers tell Trump to 'back off' attacks on GOP colleague MORE (R-Texas) pressed Fauci and Redfield for answers about evacuees from a cruise ship that are being sent to San Antonio to be quarantined at an airbase.

“I've got an email right here from the city council, mayor and leadership in San Antonio saying they don't have adequate plans on what to do with those who have been who have tested positive,” he said. “So I expect you all to come back down here today” to answer questions.

There were more than 1,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. as of late Tuesday, with more than two dozen deaths.

Pence’s public schedule shows that he will lead a meeting of the White House’s coronavirus task force at 4 p.m. in the Situation Room. Trump and Pence are also slated to meet with Wall Street executives at 3 p.m. to discuss the financial impact of the virus.

Lawmakers pressed Fauci and Redfield on the slow pace of testing, with the CDC testing fewer than 5,000 people for the coronavirus. Public health labs, hospitals and providers have had to strictly limit who can be tested for the virus to people who are elderly, have underlying health conditions, have traveled to high-risk areas like China and Italy or have had close contact with a positive case. 

Experts suspect there are cases of the coronavirus that haven’t been detected because of the lack of testing.

“If you don’t do testing, we don’t know the full scope of the problem,” Maloney said. 

“We are operating in the dark.” 

Fauci has repeatedly denied that the White House is muzzling his statements on the coronavirus. 

“I have never ever held back telling exactly what is going on from a public health standpoint,” he said. 

He sounded a dire warning Wednesday that the outbreak will worsen before it gets better. 

“We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now,” he said.