White House pauses testimony for officials handling coronavirus response

Democrats also say Fauci’s testimony directly played a role in convincing the NBA to suspend its season, an example of the profound impact sworn testimony from senior health officials can have on decision-makers going forward.

The Oversight committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, (D-N.Y.) said she hoped to be able to “work with the Administration in a reasonable way to make sure Dr. Fauci and other key officials are allowed to continue providing information to Congress in this critical period, even as we recognize the key functions they are serving.”

“Congress plays a critical role to ensure all federal resources are used effectively and efficiently in this time of crisis, especially when state and local entities are saying they do not have what they need to fight this pandemic,” Maloney added.

A senior administration official emphasized that the pause in public testimony would be brief and would not preclude other forms of information-sharing with Congress.

“Agencies that are involved in the coronavirus response are working with Congressional committees to postpone hearings temporarily while they fully focus their resources on the mission,” said a senior administration official. “The Administration will continue to practice ‘radical transparency’ with Congress and the American people during this public health emergency.”

The White House has been holding near-daily press briefings to provide updates on the coronavirus response. And Fauci is far from silenced; he’s been a ubiquitous presence on television, appearing on multiple Sunday news shows and giving interviews.

In addition, lawmakers themselves don’t appear to be clamoring to hold any public hearings in the near-term. The House is in a long-planned weeklong recess while leaders work with the Senate on a massive economic stimulus package, and House officials have recommended that members and staff practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, limiting the prospect of gathering for high-profile public hearings.

However, House Democrats say direct communication between lawmakers and senior officials remains crucial during the crisis. The frustration voiced by some Democrats captures a lingering tension between the Trump administration and the House, which has been seeking additional documents and information about the administration’s pandemic preparation.

For example, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), whose state had one of the earliest cases of the virus, has been requesting information from CDC on testing capacity, and says the response he’s received has been “incomplete and still fails to give us a complete picture of the country’s ability to process coronavirus tests.”

House Democratic aides say they’ve also struggled to get detailed information on decision-making surrounding the availability of coronavirus tests; whether the administration heeded warnings from public health experts in January; and other important questions about the early days of the crisis. But they also acknowledge that senior officials should be focused on handling the immediate challenges the nation is facing, especially while experts urge Americans to stay home when possible.

“We’ve also been trying to give them distance to respond to the outbreak,” said one House Democratic aide. “So, we’re going to have a long list of questions after this is over.”

“Hopefully this won’t look like pointing fingers,” said another Democratic aide, who agreed that the House plans to ramp up oversight after the immediate crisis subsides. “America is in the emergency room right now. We’re trying to stabilize the patient first.”