Senate Dems ask government watchdog to investigate 'political pressure' on FDA, CDC

COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 212,000 Americans.

October 09, 2020, 5:02 AM

Senate Democrats are calling on an internal government watchdog agency to investigate allegations that the White House has sought to undermine coronavirus messaging from government experts that conflicts with President Donald Trump's political priorities.

In their letter, dated Thursday and obtained first by ABC News, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., slammed the Trump administration for "repeatedly applying political pressure and imposing orders on career scientists that undermine the agencies' credibility and independence."

The Democrats urged the Government Accountability Office to "conduct an investigation to determine whether the CDC and FDA's scientific integrity and communications policies have been violated and whether those policies are being implemented as intended to assure scientific integrity throughout the agency."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump listens to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn speak on the latest developments of the coronavirus outbreak, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 19, 2020, in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump listens to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn speak on the latest developments of the coronavirus outbreak, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House March 19, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

Since the early days of the pandemic, the Trump administration has faced criticism about its coronavirus response, including downplaying the severity of the virus and undermining the opinions of the country's top scientific experts.

The administration also has faced allegations that it put pressure on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to change their guidance on important subjects.

Earlier this week, for example, The New York Times reported that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows' office stalled an effort to greenlight more stringent guidelines for the eventual approval of a vaccine.

A spokesperson for the White House budget office denied that report to ABC News, and the tougher guidelines were later approved. That decision angered Trump, who tweeted Tuesday that the "New FDA Rules" amount to nothing more than "another political hit job."

PHOTO: In this July 11, 2017, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Gary Peters greet Richard Spencer before his confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
In this July 11, 2017, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Gary Peters greet Richard Spencer before his confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

The senators also cited reports that political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services published information to the CDC's website -- without consulting experts at the CDC -- recommending that asymptomatic people did not need to be tested for COVID 19 -- guidance that was later reversed.

Also highlighted in the letter is a report that the White House pressured the CDC to downplay the risk of COVID transmission in schools, despite significant evidence to the contrary. A White House spokesperson said at the time that this was merely a reflection of a diverse set of opinions on the coronavirus task force and personnel "who offer different expertise and views on a variety of issues."

Last week, 30 senators outlined similar concerns in a letter to the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The White House has repeatedly denied claims of politicization of its coronavirus response, insisting instead that it has followed the advice of career officials and the nation's top scientists and crafting its response to the pandemic.

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