White House blocks CDC director from testifying before House panel on reopening schools

The Trump administration is rebuffing House Democrats’ effort to hear testimony from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield on safely reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) sent Redfield a letter last week asking him or a CDC designee to testify at a hearing on how K-12 public schools can reopen for in-person classroom instruction this fall. But on Friday, Scott said his panel had been informed that the Trump administration would not allow CDC testimony at the hearing planned for next week.

“It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the committee at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators. This lack of transparency does a great disservice to the many communities across the country facing difficult decisions about reopening schools this fall,” Scott said in a statement.

A senior administration official said that Redfield has already testified before Congress at least four times in the last few months.

The White House has been limiting congressional testimony from top officials leading the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining that they should be focused as much as possible on planning and implementing the federal government’s actions to contain the virus.

The White House offered a similar rationale in May for preventing Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, from testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee about the government’s response to the pandemic.

A White House spokesman said at the time that it would be “counterproductive” for officials involved in the pandemic response to testify at congressional hearings, but that the administration would work with Congress to make them available “at the appropriate time.”

President Trump, however, said after Fauci had been blocked from testifying before the panel that he didn’t want officials to testify in front of what he called “a bunch of Trump haters.”

“The House is a set up. The House is a bunch of Trump haters,” Trump said at the time, noting that Fauci would testify before a GOP-controlled Senate committee. “But the House, I will tell you, the House, they should be ashamed of themselves. And, frankly, the Democrats should be ashamed, because they don’t want us to succeed. They want us to fail so they can win an election.”

A CDC spokesperson indicated that Redfield would eventually testify before Congress at some other point in the future.

“He takes seriously his responsibility to keep Congress informed on CDC’s response to COVID. Being cognizant of the need to prioritize time of task force members, CDC will participate in future hearings when approached by committees of jurisdiction,” the spokesperson said.

Redfield most recently testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on June 30 to discuss how people can begin returning to work and school. He also appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee a week earlier.

Fauci, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing coordinator, also appeared alongside Redfield at both hearings.

Since then, the Trump administration has been vocal about pushing for schools to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction in the fall, even though a number of states are reporting spikes in coronavirus cases.

The U.S. set a record for new confirmed cases Thursday, reporting more than 75,000.

Redfield said last week that the CDC would issue additional guidance to offer more clarity on how schools in the U.S. can reopen safely, but more than a week later none has been released. Redfield said during an interview with The Hill that he believes the risks of delaying school openings outweighs keeping them closed.

“I think really people underestimate the public health consequences of having the schools closed on the kids,” Redfield said. “I’m confident we can open these schools safely, work in partnership with the local jurisdictions.”

The updated guidance would come after Trump tweeted that the CDC’s current guidelines were “very tough & expensive.” But despite the push for schools to reopen, the Trump administration has not offered a specific plan for how to do it safely.

A number of school districts — including in Richmond, Va., Prince George’s County, Md., and San Diego and Los Angeles — announced this week that they will move to full virtual learning when they reopen in the fall out of concerns that the coronavirus could spread among students, teachers and staff in school buildings. Other school districts are currently planning a mix of in-person and virtual instruction.

—Updated at 8:38 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci Bobby Scott Coronavirus Donald Trump Reopening schools Robert Redfield

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