Democrats ‘frustrated’ by administration’s coronavirus response after closed-door briefing
Democratic lawmakers expressed frustration Friday with the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, saying they left a closed-door briefing by top health officials with many unanswered questions.
Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) said lawmakers are “frustrated” and “everybody wants more information.”
“We want the truth and we want all of the facts and there’s some skepticism whether we’re actually getting [it],” she added.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), speaking inside the briefing, criticized the administration’s response, saying she had “grave concerns” about a lack of transparency.
Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) later criticized her statements, saying “it was really political and I thought it was the wrong place to be political.”
Administration officials from some of the country’s top health agencies briefed House lawmakers on Capitol Hill about the steps being taken so far and what’s on the horizon.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top official at the National Institutes of Health who was among those briefing House lawmakers, addressed reports that he is under a gag order and must clear his statements through Vice President Pence, according to Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
Fauci told lawmakers he is not being “muzzled” but that he did cancel some scheduled TV appearances after Pence was tapped by President Trump to lead the administration’s response so that everyone could get on the same page, Takano added.
Rep. John Garamendi (D), who represents one of the districts in Northern California where the first possible case of spread of the virus among the general public occurred, later told MSNBC that Fauci was scheduled to do five Sunday talk shows, a rare move, but canceled the appearances after Pence took over.
Administration officials were also asked by lawmakers about allegations from a Department of Health and Human Services whistleblower that government employees were sent to handle flights of people returning from China without proper protective gear or training.
Democrats said the responses to that question were not satisfactory.
“They were asked about it, but there was no clarity,” Garamendi said.
Asked if lawmakers are frustrated, he responded, “Of course.”
“There’s more than frustration, there’s community infection in my district,” Garamendi said, pointing to possible breaches of protocol at Travis Air Force Base in California, one of the bases that received people to be quarantined and that is at the center of the whistleblower complaint.
“Where did it come from? It most likely came from Travis Air Force Base, people that were working there, quite possibly not following protocols,” Garamendi said.
“The possibility that procedures weren’t followed and proper protocols weren’t followed and proper training was not in place is really concerning,” Takano added.
A small group of California lawmakers said that Dr. Robert Kadlec, an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, agreed to brief them further on Friday about the whistleblower complaints, because the questions were not adequately answered on Friday morning.
“It was not as responsive as I would have liked,” Takano said.
“Essentially it was, ‘the proof is in the pudding, nobody’s gotten sick so it must have been OK,’” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said of the officials’ response to the whistleblower complaint.
In addition to the complaint of lack of protections for workers responding at those bases, lawmakers also pointed to a lack of tests available to identify the virus and overly strict protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that prevented a key patient from being tested for days. That patient is at UC Davis Medical Center in California after getting the virus in possibly the first known case of spread of the virus in the community.
The tests themselves were also plagued with problems initially that meant the test did not always work, which the CDC has now addressed.
The CDC has also now revised its protocols for testing to allow more people to be tested and says that more tests are being made available.
Garamendi called it “stupidity” that led to the CDC initially declining to test the person in California who has the first possible case of community spread of the virus.
Experts have expressed concern that the virus is spreading in more locations in the U.S. than is known because people are not being tested.
“The more testing that takes place, the numbers are going to go up in terms of those who have the virus,” Brownley said.
Administration officials also defended themselves by saying there are only 15 cases of the virus, lawmakers said, not counting those repatriated from a cruise ship.
Scott Wong contributed.
Updated at 11:17 a.m.
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