The White House has blocked Dr.Anthony Fauci from testifying to Congress, saying it would be “counterproductive” for the senior member of the White House coronavirus taskforce to talk about the government’s response to the pandemic in a House committee hearing.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, welcomed Mitch McConnell’s move to recall the Senate to Washington despite the congressional physician’s office reportedly telling Republicans it would not be able to screen all 100 senators for Covid-19 on Monday.
The president also called the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, “crazy” for not recalling the House and moved to remove a health department watchdog who wrote a critical report on the government’s pandemic response.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins university, the US has recorded more than 1.1m coronavirus cases and more than 65,000 deaths. On Friday, Trump told reporters: “Hopefully, we’re going to come in below … 100,000 lives lost.”
Fauci, 79, has worked at the National Institutes of Health since 1968. A source of measured, expert analysis on the Covid-19 outbreak in press briefings and interviews, his public profile has risen. This has put him at odds with Trump, who has downplayed the pandemic and disputed facts about the crisis.
Fauci and Trump’s disparate responses have left many concerned the president will attempt to silence the doctor or push him out entirely. In April, Trump retweeted a post calling for Fauci to be fired but he has denied that he has considered doing so.
Regarding the decision to block Fauci from appearing in Congress, a White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said: “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 counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings.
An unnamed senior administration official told the Washington Post the White House was “not muzzling” Fauci, because he is expected at a Senate hearing about testing the following week.
Thomas Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be among speakers at a House hearing next week.
Late on Friday, the White House moved to replace a health department official who warned of supply shortages and testing delays at hospitals, according to the New York Times.
Trump criticized the official, Christi Grimm, at a briefing three weeks ago, in response to the report she authored. Trump also attacked Grimm on Twitter, highlighting her work in the Obama administration. She also served under George W Bush and Bill Clinton.
The White House announced Friday night that it had nominated a new inspector general for the department. Grimm would be the fourth government watchdog pushed out in recent weeks.
In a statement, Patty Murray, a Democratic senator from Washington state, said: “We all know the president hasn’t told people the truth about this virus or his administration’s response, and late last night, he moved to silence an independent government official who did.
“The president cannot be above oversight, no matter how he denies, attacks, and fights against it.”
On Twitter on Saturday morning, Trump insisted it was safe for the Senate to return to the Capitol.
“There is tremendous CoronaVirus testing capacity in Washington for the Senators returning to Capital [sic] Hill on Monday,” he wrote.
The Times, however, reported that the office of the Congress doctor, Dr Brian Monahan, did not think it could test all 100 senators.
“Likewise the House, which should return but isn’t because of Crazy Nancy P[elosi],” Trump added. The House speaker has said members should not return next week – in response to guidance from Monahan.
Nearly 200 members of Congress are more vulnerable to serious complications from a Covid-19 infection because they are 65 and older. Pelosi herself is 80. It is unknown how many are also at risk because of underlying conditions or who live with people who would be at greater risk if they contracted the illness.