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Harris urges GOP chairman to focus on coronavirus ahead of Biden-Burisma subpoena vote

Harris urges GOP chairman to focus on coronavirus ahead of Biden-Burisma subpoena vote
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden says family will avoid business conflicts Biden says China must play by 'international norms' MORE (D-Calif.) is publicly urging a key GOP chairman to focus on the coronavirus ahead of a scheduled vote on a subpoena related to a controversial investigation into Hunter Biden and Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.

Harris sent a letter to Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWatch live: Senate panel holds Russia investigation hearing Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, warning the senator that he had "continued to pursue partisan political matters ... that do nothing to help the millions of constituents that we serve."

"It has now been over two months since our committee’s last hearing with administration officials responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and two years since we have had an oversight hearing with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). ... This is a clear abdication of responsibility," she wrote.

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Harris's letter comes as Johnson has scheduled a committee meeting for Wednesday to vote on a subpoena for Blue Star Strategies, a firm that has ties to Burisma Holdings. The Senate committee is also expected to vote on Brian Miller's nomination to be special inspector general for pandemic recovery. 

But the panel's meetings, like many Senate committees, have slowed to a crawl since mid-March, when senators increasingly turned their focus to negotiating a series of coronavirus relief bills and scaled back committee meetings to try to accommodate social distancing. 

According to its publicly released schedule, the panel held two other meetings this month: One last week on cyber strategy and a roundtable on COVID-19 with outside experts on May 6. 

Before that, the full committee held a business meeting in mid-March, where it was initially expected to vote on a subpoena for a former Blue Star consultant, but Johnson canceled the vote amid bipartisan concern among members of the panel.

It also held a homeland security-related hearing and a coronavirus response hearing in early March.  

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Spokesmen for Johnson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.  

Harris, in her letter, reiterated that she wants the committee to hold a public hearing with FEMA officials.

"It is imperative that we get a hearing on the schedule and that it is the first in a line of COVID-19 oversight hearings with administration officials," she wrote.

"This crisis deserves our undivided attention and it is critical that we hear from the officials who are currently responsible for addressing this outbreak as soon as possible. Failing to convene a hearing with these individuals is a failure to perform our oversight function especially considering that a primary role of this committee is to provide oversight of FEMA," she added. 

Johnson is one of three Senate GOP chairmen who are looking into decisions stemming from the Obama administration.  

Johnson and Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates Republican senators urge Trump to dodge pardon controversies Grassley suggests moderate Democrats for next Agriculture secretary MORE (R-Iowa) are deep into a months-long, wide-ranging probe they say is focused on potential wrongdoing or conflicts of interest within the Obama administration. 

Johnson has repeatedly denied that the investigation is political. But the focus on Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE, and Burisma in particular has sparked frustration with Democrats on and off the panel, who warn that Republicans could help spread Russian misinformation or meddle in the 2020 election where Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee. 

Trump and some of his allies have floated a discredited narrative that Joe Biden tried to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to protect his son.

No evidence has indicated that either of the Bidens engaged in criminal wrongdoing, and there was widespread concern at the time — both internationally and from a bipartisan coalition in Congress — about corruption within Shokin's office.