Scalise targets China, WHO response from coronavirus oversight perch

Scalise targets China, WHO response from coronavirus oversight perch
© Greg Nash

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (R-La.) says he'd like to see the new House select committee overseeing the federal response to the pandemic focus on China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak as well as the World Health Organization's (WHO) efforts to respond to the disease.

Scalise, the committee's top Republican who was appointed with other GOP members this week, said he wants to see the panel address how to best hold China accountable for withholding information and spreading what he called a false narrative at the start of the outbreak.

“I'd like to see the focus start with China and the World Health Organization, because serious concerns have been raised about Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], the head of WHO, and his close affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party, and the things that they did to work with China to hide the facts about the COVID-19 from the rest of the world,” he told The Hill.

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Scalise said he and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the chairman of the select committee, have "a very good relationship," noting they "have worked sometimes against each other, but sometimes with each other, like on USMCA," the renegotiated North American trade deal.

House Republicans have largely condemned the creation of the select committee, calling it redundant and claiming it is politically motivated. Scalise said in the interview Thursday that he shares some of his GOP colleagues’ concerns but said he's hopeful it won't take a political turn.

“This is a committee that we said from the beginning wasn't necessary because there are other oversight committees that cover every aspect of the recovery, and you also have inspectors general that have been appointed in each agency. But at the same time, we want to make sure that the committee is really focused on helping people get back to work and helping rebuild the economy,” he said.

“There are other things that I feel strongly that we should be focused on, and that is holding China accountable for what they did to hide the facts from us in the rest of the world, and also to address the problems with supply chain where ... China's in control of so many things that are vital to us like PPE [personal protective equipment] and even our generic drugs. So that's where I'd like to see the committee focus, but we’re gonna see real soon which way it goes,” he added.

The House voted along party lines last month to establish the select committee, which consists of seven Democrats and five Republicans. Democrats have argued the panel is necessary to prevent waste, fraud and abuse after Congress passed $3.6 trillion in spending to prop up the economy amid widespread fallout from shutdowns aimed at curbing the coronavirus outbreak.

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Republicans were initially reluctant to participate in the committee, with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? McCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue MORE (R-Calif.) likening it to the impeachment effort and accusing Democrats of forming the panel to attack the president. Still, McCarthy announced Thursday that GOP members would be appointed to the panel, selecting Scalise, Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up Democrats start cracking down on masks for lawmakers MORE (Ohio) and Reps. Blaine LuetkemeyerWilliam (Blaine) Blaine LuetkemeyerScalise blasts Democrats for calling on certain companies to return PPP loans Scalise targets China, WHO response from coronavirus oversight perch McCarthy unveils new GOP-led China task force MORE (Mo.), Jackie WalorskiJacqueline (Jackie) R. WalorskiScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Scalise blasts Democrats for calling on certain companies to return PPP loans Scalise targets China, WHO response from coronavirus oversight perch MORE (Ind.) and Mark GreenMark GreenComer tapped to serve as top Republican on House Oversight Clyburn pledges not to recognize committee members who don't wear masks This week: Democrats set to move health care, infrastructure proposals with eye on November MORE (Tenn.) to sit on the committee.

“Speaker Pelosi spent this entire majority of hers focused on harassment of the president from day one," Scalise told The Hill, citing the push to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE.

"They haven't given up, they haven't moved on ... and that's been a concern from the beginning that they could be working with the president and all of us to address so many big issues that our country is facing, and instead they just seem to fixate on this vendetta, it's a personal vendetta against the president,” he asserted.

The GOP leader added: "I hope they don't abuse this committee and the taxpayer dollars that'll be spent on it focusing on that approach, I hope they try to work with the president to make sure that we can get families back to work and reopen our economy safely. And if we do that it would be successful, but time will tell.”

Democrats announced Friday that the committee’s first official action was sending letters to large corporations demanding they return any stimulus money they had received as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was aimed at providing forgivable loans to small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Republicans have blasted the move, arguing it signals the newly-formed committee is headed in a partisan direction. 

“It is outrageous and telling that the first action committee Democrats have taken is blindly sending harassing letters to individual companies that followed the law to keep their workers on the payroll—a law that each of their members on the committee voted for—rather than using their power to work with together on a bipartisan basis to help families safely get back to work, and start holding China accountable for the devastation they perpetrated on the American people,” Scalise said in a statement.

“[Treasury] Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin has already stated that the Treasury Department is looking into all companies that have received loans through the overwhelmingly successful PPP fund. With a large scale audit underway, this action by Democrats represents dangerous government intimidation that could cause more widespread layoffs at a time when we should be trying to keep American workers on the payroll,” he continued.