Senate Democrats on Thursday urged the health department’s watchdog to probe whether Trump administration political appointees interfered with the Covid-19 response to play down the virus' risks and change language to align with President Donald Trump, citing reports from POLITICO and other news outlets.
“The consistent pattern running through these reports of political interference is the ongoing effort to minimize the seriousness of the virus,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and colleagues wrote in a letter to Principal Deputy Inspector General Christi Grimm, who currently leads the Health and Human Services department’s office of inspector general. “[W]e ask that you immediately investigate whether, and to what extent, political interference has undermined the scientific and public health processes,” the Democrats added in the letter, which was shared first with POLITICO.
The Democrats cited press reports of Trump appointees seeking to shape policies at agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control, sometimes over the objections of career scientists. POLITICO first reported that HHS officials were seeking to alter and even halt the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, alleging that the much-read scientific bulletins were deliberating undermining Trump’s optimistic statements on the coronavirus.
The letter was led by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who oversaw the creation of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee as part of the CARES Act, which empowered inspectors general to further probe the Covid-19 response. The letter was co-signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mich.), Schumer and 26 other Democrats.
HHS downplayed Democrats’ letter, with a spokesperson calling it an attempt to “undermine” the administration’s response.
“Under President Trump, HHS has always provided public health information based on sound science,” the spokesperson told POLITICO. “Throughout the COVID-19 response, science and data have driven and will continue to drive the decisions at HHS.”