The White House has blocked members of its coronavirus task force from appearing before congressional lawmakers this month without the express approval of President Donald Trump’s top deputy, according to several media reports.
The Trump administration sent a memo to congressional committees on Monday saying task force officials were under an “extraordinary” demand as the nation reels from the ongoing pandemic and said it was “reasonable” that they not appear at any hearings. Only White House chief of staff Mark Meadows may give them special dispensation to do so.
“Agencies must maximize their resources for COVID-19 response efforts and treat hearing requests accordingly,” says the memo, obtained by The Washington Post. “Given these competing demands in these unprecedented times, it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused on implementing of COVID-19 response, including declining to participate in multiple hearings on the same or overlapping topics.”
The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The move sparked immediate backlash from some top Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said preventing task force members from speaking to Congress would only “prolong this health and economic crisis.”
“The president’s failure to accept the truth, and then his desire to hide it, is one of the chief reasons we are lagging behind so many other countries in beating this scourge,” Schumer told The New York Times.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also lashed out after news of the memo was first reported, saying the move was “business as usual” for the White House during an interview on CNN.
“But it is not business that will be helpful to addressing this,” Pelosi said. “We must insist on the truth.”
Last week, the White House blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, from testifying before a House panel on the country’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic, calling any appearance before lawmakers “counterproductive.”
“While the Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” a White House spokesman said at the time. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.”
The coronavirus has continued to wreak havoc around the nation, despite Trump’s insistence that parts of the country should reopen as soon as possible to help kick-start the U.S. economy. More than 1.1 million Americans have been infected with the virus, and more than 68,000 have died.
Internal White House projections show those figures rising dramatically for at least another month, with the death toll expected to reach about 3,000 per day by June 1, according to the Times.
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