August 31, 2020

Merkley, Wyden Blast Trump Administration’s Constant, Dangerous Political Interference in COVID-19 Response

Moves are latest in long pattern of steps from Trump administration that have put politics ahead of science and put public health at risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and 30 of their Democratic Senate colleagues wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar criticizing the Trump administration for their continued political interference in the COVID-19 response. The Senators warned that decisions to pressure and overrule public health experts will erode public trust and hamper efforts to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

“The timing of this interference is particularly troubling, as people across the country are waiting anxiously for a safe and effective vaccine to COVID-19. More than ever, public trust in our core public health agencies must be fiercely protected. We will not beat this pandemic without that trust, and allowing political interference in these processes is harmful to the trust in our world-class scientific institutions and ultimately the health of our population. As such, the Administration’s actions this week have set off alarms among experts and former leaders of these agencies.  It is your responsibility, as head of the Department that researches, approves, and disseminates diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, as well as critical information about the pandemic, to safeguard the integrity of the agencies under your control,” wrote the senators.

In the letter, the senators highlighted several recent episodes where the Trump administration took actions that appeared to put political pressure on public health experts. Last week, President Trump baselessly accused officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of wanting to impede progress on COVID-19 treatments and vaccines until after the election. Recent reports also indicate that administration officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to alter testing guidelines to suggest fewer people need to be tested—a move that has since been walked back.

The letter notes that these recent steps are part of a larger pattern of putting politics over public health in the Trump administration. Earlier this year President Trump insisted on authorizing hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment for COVID-19, and even removed officials who insisted it be scientifically vetted. The administration also blocked previous CDC guidance for reopening.

The letter was also signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Edward Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Doug Jones (D-AL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Angus King (I-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

A PDF of the letter is available HERE.