White House blocks Anthony Fauci testifying before panel

Members of virus task force must receive permission to appear before committees

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an event at the White House last week. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an event at the White House last week. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

 

Members of the US coronavirus task force have been told they cannot testify to committees unless it is agreed with the White House.

The move comes after Donald Trump’s administration moved to block Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, from testifying before a House panel.

Democrats have said the block would hamper their ability to gather detailed information about the nation’s response to the pandemic.

A memo sent to congressional committees also seeks to limit the number of coronavirus-related appearances on Capitol Hill for those at key departments responding to the pandemic.

It stated that “the demands on agencies’ staff and resources are extraordinary in this current crisis”.

A senior administration official said task force members had been working non-stop since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak and need to focus on the task at hand rather than “preparing for four-hour hearings several times a week”.

Democratic leaders of the House and Senate criticised the move.

The leader of the Democrats in the Senate Chuck Schumer said: “president Trump should learn that by muzzling science and the truth, it will 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.”

House speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNN that spending bills related to the pandemic begin in the House and that politicians need to consult with administration officials on those matters.

She said White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who until recently served in the House, knew politicians would be insisting on the truth, and the White House “might be afraid of the truth”.

“The fact that they said, ‘we’re too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol’ is, well, business as usual for them,” Ms Pelosi said.

The memo said that given the “competing demands in these unprecedented times, it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused” on the Covid-19 response. – PA