Maxine Waters and Azar in heated exchange at coronavirus hearing: ‘We’re very unhappy’

California Rep. Maxine Waters (D) got into a heated exchange with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during his testimony before Congress on Friday, with the congresswoman saying she was “very unhappy” with the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Waters’s remarks came after she questioned Azar about the effect of President Trump’s campaign rallies and whether he thought they increased COVID-19 infections. 

The president and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday following multiple rallies and events that public health experts warned were dangerous amid the pandemic.

Azar did not directly answer Waters’s question, instead stating, “We have consistent advice, which is to practice the three Ws for all individuals: wash your hands, watch your distance, wear face coverings.”

Waters then repeated the question about the rallies before asking if Azar “ever interacted with the president about him being a possible role model in this country and being one that could either help us to decrease the deaths and infections by being a role model himself, wearing a mask and having social distancing?”

“The President’s guidelines since April have said wear face coverings, wash your hands … practice social distancing–” Azar said. 

Waters interrupted him saying, “Mr. Secretary, are you proud of the job you have done?”

“I don’t like to speak in those terms, 206,000 people have died,” Azar responded. 

“So you don’t like to speak in those terms about what you’re doing?” Waters asked. “You don’t like to talk about what you’re saying to the president, who should be a role model to the people of this country?”

Waters continued, “You can’t give me any numbers about the increases that are taking place. You don’t even know where those increases are taking place, and you come here today to testify with this paltry testimony that you’re giving us and you expect us to be happy.”

“We’re very unhappy about what’s going on,” the California representative added. “And we feel sorry that the president and his wife and others are now experiencing a positive test.”

Waters then asked Azar why he was not being open about deaths, infections and the type of role modeling the country needs.

“How can you come here without being prepared to do that?” she asked

The rest of Friday’s hearing before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis focused on the U.S. development of a vaccine. Azar told lawmakers that the president is trying to help Americans have a positive outlook on the pandemic by saying a vaccine could be available within weeks. 

However, experts suggest that Trump’s comments on the readiness of the vaccine could lead to lowered confidence from the American public. 

Last month, the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States found that while 80 percent said they trusted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 87 percent said the same in April.

A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 67 percent of Americans have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the CDC to provide reliable information about the pandemic, a decrease of 16 percentage points since April.

Tags Alex Azar Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC coronavirus covid-19 COVID-19 vaccine Department of Health and Human Services Donald Trump Maxine Waters Melania Trump operation warp speed Social distancing Trump rallies

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