Reed & Whitehouse Call for Investigation into Trump Admin’s Political Interference in COVID-19 Response

Following barrage of alarming instances of Trump Admin meddling in scientific work, Reed & Whitehouse introduce STOP Act to form non-partisan task force task to examine communications between the White House, HHS, & other health agencies

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to prevent the Trump Administration from suppressing scientific findings and impeding scientific work by agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today joined Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and 30 of their Senate Democratic colleagues in introducing the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act.  This legislation would fight back against political interference by the Trump Administration in the work of experts and the nation’s public health agencies to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

«People’s lives are at stake.  We can’t let partisan politics trump science.  It is appalling that the Trump Administration has repeatedly sought to undermine infectious disease experts, suppress scientific information, and inject politics into the regulatory process.  Elected officials must be honest with the American people and provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions,» said Senator Reed, who noted that Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official, was installed as the spokesman for HHS in April and subsequently used his position to try to control the dissemination of critical COVID information and bully public servants and experts.  Earlier this month, Mr. Caputo went on a wild, unfounded rant that accused CDC officials of «sedition» and suggested that scientists were serving as a «resistance unit.»  Mr. Caputo subsequently took a 60-day medical leave of absence.  «Mr. Caputo was forced to take leave, but that isn’t enough.  The American people deserve to know how and to what extent the President’s hand-picked political appointees have been meddling in the COVID-response effort and what impact their interference had.»

«The Trump Administration’s political interference in the national pandemic response has cost American lives and livelihoods,» said Senator Whitehouse.  «We’ve lost 200,000 people—far more than any other Western nation—because President Trump refuses to follow the science, even as he admits the dangers of this virus behind closed doors.»

The STOP Act would create a task force of the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee charged with conducting a thorough investigation into any political interference with decisions made by scientific agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the pandemic response.  These reports would be released to committees of jurisdiction and could be made public so Americans and independent experts can see with full transparency whether scientists were unimpeded in their work or a product was pushed for political reasons.  Additionally, the task force would have full discretion to release any information that it deems is in the public interest and may be important to public safety.  The push for additional oversight of the Trump Administration comes following a barrage of alarming instances of Trump officials undermining the work of public health agencies on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, including:  

•           September, 18: The New York Times reports that Secretary Azar has barred the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from signing any new rules without his approval.

•           September, 18: The New York Times and Washington Post report further on how Trump Administration political appointees tried to silence CDC experts.

•           September, 15: Politico expands on previous reporting to note that Secretary Azar overruled the head of the FDA when Azar moved to loosen oversight of COVID-19 testing and allow unreliable tests to flood the market.

•           September, 14: The New York Times reports that the spokesperson for HHS has promoted false conspiracy theories about the work of experts and scientists at the nation’s public health agencies.

•           September, 12: The New York Times reports that the Trump Administration pressured officials at the FDA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to authorize convalescent plasma therapy before their review of its safety and effectiveness were complete.

•           September, 11: Politico reports that politically appointed Trump Administration officials demanded oversight of reports from CDC experts, and have worked to edit and append findings from CDC experts in its flagship scientific publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

•           September, 9: Politico reports that a Trump Administration appointee was attempting to dictate talking points to NIH officials.

•           September 4: President Trump contradicts his own experts, and says a vaccine will be ready in October.

•           August, 26: CNN reports that the CDC was pressured by the Trump Administration to alter its testing guidance to be more restrictive. (this guidance has since been reversed)

•           August, 22: President Trump tweets accusing the FDA of holding back a vaccine, writing: «The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives! @SteveFDA»

The Administration’s  interference in the work of the nation’s public health agencies far precedes this most recent string of alarming examples. President Trump promoted hyrdoxychloroquine as an unproven treatment for COVID-19, and reportedly removed the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for insisting this claim be scientifically vetted. Trump Administration officials also blocked and contradicted CDC guidance meant to help schools, workplaces, and communities reopen. 

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY),  Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ed Markey (D-MA),  Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).