Donald Trump is denying House Democrats access to two more of his administration's top pandemic task force members. The White House is now prohibiting the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the director of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seem Verma, from testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to the Daily Beast.
Last week, the White House also prohibited one of its top coronavirus medical experts from testifying before the House—Dr. Anthony Fauci. But for the moment, Fauci is still scheduled to testify before a GOP-led panel in the Senate.
Laughably, Trump officials have justified the gag orders by saying testifying before Congress was too time-consuming for key pandemic response officials, as if Trump hasn't spent the past month squandering the time of those very same people as he prattled on day after day, peddling misinformation. Fauci even called the briefings "really draining" several weeks ago.
But when Trump was asked Tuesday about the task force gag order, he made clear the move was explicitly political, calling House Democrats "Trump haters."
Just like with impeachment, the default position for the White House now is that everyone on the coronavirus task force must seek permission from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify. In other words, every request by House Democrats is a complete nonstarter.
But the difference now is that Trump is blocking the public from getting information that's literally a matter of life and death. House Democrats have said the hearings are effort to gather information that can help them craft legislation in response to the ongoing public health crisis.
“The fact is that we need to allocate resources for this,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “In order to do that, any appropriations bill must begin in the House. And we have to have the information to act upon.”
Secretary Azar has not provided public testimony on the pandemic for nearly two months. Verma, who runs the government's two most expansive healthcare programs, hasn't given public testimony since the crisis began.