High-ranking federal health officials vehemently denied on Wednesday that political appointees are manipulating or meddling with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) weekly scientific reports outlining the progress of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
During a hearing by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC Director, joined two top public health officials who dismissed claims that political interference is compromising his agency’s scientific Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs).
“At no time has the scientific integrity of the MMWR been compromised, and I can say that under my watch, it will not be compromised,” Dr. Redfield told Senators on Wednesday, further stressing:
We’re going to continue to give Congress and the nation the best public health advice. We’re not going to let political influence try to modulate that. … I will stand by the men and women that are the scientific experts. They are there to do their job to express what they know in a way that can be interpreted to the American public.
The officials’ denial, however, fell on deaf ears.
“I hear you, but I do think Congress needs to make it clear that there’s no political interference,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the panel holding the hearing, declared.
The allegations of political interference stemmed from Politico’s article claiming that HHS political appointees have tried to review, alter, or halt the MMWRs to align with the president’s messaging on the virus.
Career scientists at CDC, an HHS component, write the weekly reports, which are primarily consumed by their counterparts and medical workers, epidemiologists, and researchers.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for Health at HHS, also rejected the notion that political interference plagued federal health agencies’ scientific integrity.
As the senior scientific advisor of the HHS secretary, Dr. Giroir said it is his job to ensure he gets “unfiltered” scientific evidence.
“I will provide the best advice to the decision-makers that will be based on science and evidence,” he added.
Drs. Redfield, Giroir, and Bob Kadlec, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, all responded “no” when Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked if any Trump administration officials were interfering with the government’s response to the virus for political benefit.
Democrats have seized on the Politico report to lambast Trump’s efforts to combat COVID-19.
Sen. Murray proclaimed:
I am deeply troubled by reports of rampant political interference in scientific decision-making at the CDC. It is unprecedented and it is unacceptable. … We need to make sure once and for all that political interference from President Trump does not further underlying undermine our response to this crisis.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the resignation of HHS Secretary Alex Azar over the alleged political interference.
House Democrats have also launched a probe into the allegations that political appointees at HHS sought to review and alter the CDC’s weekly MMWR scientific reports about the Chinese virus.