White House officials have blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top infectious disease expert, from appearing at a House of Representatives hearing on America’s coronavirus response. It appears, however, that he will be allowed to appear at a later Senate hearing.
After the House Appropriations Committee sought Fauci’s testimony for a May 6 hearing on coronavirus and the government’s efforts to combat it, they were rebuffed by the White House, a committee spokesman told Vox.
“The Appropriations Committee sought Dr. Anthony Fauci as a witness at next week’s Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee hearing on COVID-19 response. We have been informed by an administration official that the White House has blocked Dr. Fauci from testifying,” committee spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement.
In a statement to the Washington Post, the White House said it would be “counterproductive” to allow Fauci to testify in front of Congress in the midst of the government’s efforts to fight coronavirus.
“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 the statement. “We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.”
As of now, Fauci is still slated to appear in front of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on May 12. Rather than hearing from a current White House official, the House Appropriations Committee will instead hear from Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration.
“Congress and the American public deserve a clear-eyed view of the path forward for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in a statement. “The people of this country deserve a federal government that is up-to-date, modernized, and prepared to protect lives.”
There has been past tension between Fauci and Trump
Fauci is the White House’s top infectious disease expert. But he’s become known for his straightforward, no-nonsense approach to discussing coronavirus — even if that means contradicting statements made by President Donald Trump or saying the administration could have acted sooner. These admissions, of course, fly in the face of statements by the Trump administration, which argue it acted swiftly and decisively to limit the effects of Covid-19.
It isn’t clear whether these comments were a factor in the White House decision not to allow Fauci to testify. Given the topic of the hearing, however, it seems inevitable questions about the Trump administration’s failings in addressing coronavirus would be posed. It also remains to be seen whether Fauci will be deemed too busy to appear before the Republican-controlled Senate committee later in May.
Fauci’s time has been in high demand. Public polling shows his approval rating with the American public is much higher than Trump’s, and he has become a sought-after official, both for interviews with the media and congressional testimony.
Fauci’s standing with Trump himself, however, is harder to ascertain. Trump once retweeted a call to fire Fauci that came from a conservative former California congressional nominee, without directly echoing the sentiment himself.
As Vox’s Sean Collins wrote, it’s hard to know how serious Trump is about firing his incredibly popular top public health official in the middle of a pandemic.
In this context, what Trump’s retweet means — if anything — is unclear. On one hand, he has a history of communicating displeasure with members of his administration on Twitter before firing them, once tweeting, for example about his dissatisfaction with former Inspector General Michael Atkinson four months before suddenly firing him. On the other hand, Trump has been effusive with his praise of Fauci, calling him “extraordinary” and a “good man.”
Given the president’s unpredictability, any number of explanations for the tweet are possible, from Trump blowing off steam at a moment of frustration over the CNN interview to him retweeting before having read the whole of Lorraine’s post.
It is possible the White House will reverse its decision on the House testimony — Fauci and other top public health experts were reportedly banned from doing interviews on CNN for a time, a decision said to be quickly discarded. And as Congress ramps up its oversight of the Trump administration’s continued response to coronavirus, they may seek more details about why Fauci was not allowed to testify in front of members.