House panel documents reveal Trump officials overrode CDC on COVID-19 church guidance

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The House select subcommittee investigating the U.S. coronavirus response released new evidence on Friday detailing how Trump administration officials involved themselves in COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) related to faith-based communities. 

The CDC had sent guidance for faith-based communities to the White House in May 2020.

In an email exchange shared by the subcommittee, administration officials, including then-White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, discussed the proposal and offered edits. 

Paul Ray, then the administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote in part of the email exchange, “The new CDC draft includes a significant amount of new content, much of which seems to raise religious liberty concerns. In the attached, I have proposed several passages for deletion to address those concerns. … If these edits are acceptable to you all, we could tell CDC, as early in the morning as possible, that they are free to publish contingent on striking the offensive passages.”

“Paul — Thanks for adding our colleagues who have been central to this effort. Thanks, also, for holding firm against the newest round of mission creep,” Conway replied. 

In another piece of evidence released by the subcommittee, Trump administration officials discussed the CDC’s interim guidance for faith-based communities. Deputy Associate Attorney General Jennifer Dickey said that she had “got a reach out from some folks here raising concerns about the fact that the ‘interim’ CDC guidance on houses of worship is still online.”

Associate White House Counsel May Davis responded in the email chain that the guidance was “problematic” and that she had tried to make edits to it, in addition to the ones she said had been offered by Conway.

“This removes all of the tele-church suggestions, though personally I will say that if I was old and vulnerable (I do feel old and vulnerable), drive through services would sound welcome,” Davis added.

The subcommittee also released excerpts of a transcribed interview with former CDC Director Robert Redfield, who said in part, “This is one of my great disappointments. That HHS [the Department Health and Human Services] basically took over total clearance of briefings by CDC.”

The subcommittee noted that the new batch of evidence comes before a hearing of theirs scheduled for later this morning.

“As today’s new evidence also makes clear, Trump White House officials worked under the direction of the president to purposefully undercut public health officials’ recommendations and muzzle their ability to communicate clearly to the American public,” Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a statement.

“I welcome the testimony from GAO [Government Accountability Office] officials and experts today as we work to support and build on the Biden Administration’s efforts to ensure scientific integrity at our nation’s public health agencies.”

The Hill has reached out to a Trump spokesperson for comment.

Tags CDC COVID-19 Donald Trump Kellyanne conway Kellyanne Conway Paul Ray Religion White House COVID-19 response

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