September 24, 2020

Merkley, Wyden, Senate Colleagues Introduce Bill To Stop Trump Administration’s Political Interference In COVID-19 Response

Legislation comes amid evidence of the Trump administration’s meddling in scientific work

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with 32 of their Senate Democratic colleagues, have introduced the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act, legislation to fight back against political interference by the Trump administration in the work of experts and the nation’s public health agencies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“More than 200,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus—more than in any other developed nation—not because of bad luck, but because of a complete lack of leadership from the White House,” said Merkley. “Americans across the country have seen now, up close, what happens when we have a president who not only fails to embrace science, but actively works against it. This has got to stop. Congress must do everything possible to ensure that this administration can’t spend another minute playing politics and denying science when American lives are on the line.”

“Donald Trump’s willful denial of science and rigid refusal to provide even a moment of leadership continue to worsen this public health crisis in Oregon and nationwide,” Wyden said. “Our country has suffered for far too long the painful consequences of political interference by Trump and his administration squelching medical expertise. This legislation would take the steps urgently needed to protect lives by building in independent oversight that creates the best and clearest path for a long-overdue comprehensive federal response to COVID-19.”  

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 21: It was widely reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed pertinent public health information about airborne coronavirus transmission that had been posted to its website days earlier.

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts.

September 15: Politico expands on previous reporting to note that Secretary Azar overruled the head of the Food and Drug Administration (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 the Department of Health and Human Services 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 cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), 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), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY),  Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jack Reed (D-RI), 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), Jack Rosen (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

See full text of the Science and Transparency Over Politics Act HERE.