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Senate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response

Senate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation that would establish a task force to investigate claims that the Trump administration politicized health agencies’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Thirty-four Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts The 2016 and 2020 Senate votes are about the same thing: constitutionalist judges Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking MORE (N.Y.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBaldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak Democrats demand answers from Labor Department on CDC recommendations for meatpacking plant Top Democrats accuse White House of withholding information on COVID-19 outbreak MORE (Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act in light of a flood of claims that agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were pressured to tailor their talking points and reports to support the White House’s rosy depiction of the government’s pandemic response.

Health and Human Services officials have notably been criticized for editing the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, while the CDC has been panned for high-profile reversals in its advisories, including when it stopped recommending COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic people who had been exposed to an infected person only to backtrack last week.

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The bill would specifically create a task force within the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee, an independent entity created by the CARES Act earlier this year, to investigate what Democrats have said are clear examples of interference in the government’s scientific work.

“200,000 Americans have passed away from coronavirus, millions of workers have lost their jobs, families are facing enormous challenges, and the Trump administration is still pushing the president’s political priorities rather than following the science to defeat this virus,” said Schumer. “We simply cannot trust this administration to protect the American people, which is why Congress must step in.” 

The bill orders the task force to study communications between the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies, as well as examine various drafts of scientific publications to detect “changes made … as a result of political interference.”

The body would then report its findings to congressional committees that have jurisdiction over different government health agencies, which would then have the power to publicly release the reports. 

“It is painfully clear that the Trump Administration won’t stop the political interference which is threatening our response to this pandemic and putting lives in jeopardy on its own, so it is up to Congress to act. We need transparency and accountability from top to bottom, and we need it now—before it is too late to prevent more costly mistakes,” said Murray.