White House coronavirus task force members are prohibited from testifying before Congress this month under new guidance issued by the Trump administration Monday.
Task force members and key deputies have been instructed not to accept invitations to participate in congressional hearings in May, while other agencies responding to the pandemic are being advised to limit the number of hearings they attend.
Top administration officials argue the coronavirus task force and the primary agencies responding to the pandemic need to focus their attention and resources on response efforts, and that having them testify could use up critical hours.
“We’re telling agencies that during this unprecedented time our resources need to be dedicated toward the coronavirus. At this stage we really need everybody manning their stations and prioritizing coronavirus response work,” a senior administration official told The Hill.
The White House shot back at allegations it was attempting to silence officials, arguing it will allow for testimony at a later date.
“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 counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at Congressional hearings,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement last week.
According to the new guidance, “no more than one COVID-related hearing should be agreed to with the department’s primary House and Senate authorizing committee and appropriations subcommittee for the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department” with a cap of four coronavirus-related hearings departmentwide through the end of the month.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is authorized to approve exemptions to the new protocol, and administration officials noted the guidance will be revisited and could change depending on the circumstances.
The new guidance comes as the Senate comes back into session and the House grapples with how to best bring members back to Washington safely amid the pandemic.
Fauci is currently slated to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for a coronavirus-related hearing on May 12.
Other agencies and departments are permitted to accept hearing invitations but have been advised that they should prioritize putting resources toward pandemic response efforts.
“The demands on agencies’ staff and resources are extraordinary in this current crisis. Agencies must maximize their resources for COVID-19 response efforts and treat hearing requests accordingly,” the guidance says.
“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 administration previously issued guidance pulling back on hearings related to COVID-19 in March.