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Sen. Elizabeth Warren and nine other Democratic senators called for investigations into the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, demanding answers over whether “political expediency” rather than the country’s urgent public health needs have driven the administration’s decisions.
Warren, D-Mass., penned a letter to the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Wednesday, saying that the Trump administration has been unable to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) and urgently needed medical supplies throughout the coronavirus crisis. She also accused the administration of creating “confusion and distress among states by seizing equipment orders and providing little transparency about decision-making.”
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“The Trump administration appears to have made decisions about distributing life-saving supplies based on the electoral concerns of President Trump and his political allies rather than the most urgent public health needs,” Warren wrote.
Democratic Sens. Tom Udall, Ed Markey, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Kamala Harris, Richard Blumenthal, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Chris Van Hollen joined Warren in her letter.
“This confusion has been exacerbated by President Trump’s public statements suggesting that governors’ political support for his administration could influence how much support they receive from the federal government,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter to HHS and FEMA inspectors general. “This obfuscation underscores the need for clarity as to how decisions regarding the seizure and redistribution of supplies are being made, and whether or not they are tainted with political interference.”
Warren, Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Markey, D-Mass., also called for the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), the new entity established by the CARES Act passed last month, to investigate the “partisan and political nature of the White House’s actions.”
Warren, Blumenthal and Markey also raised additional concerns regarding reports that “the Trump administration may have delayed payments to American taxpayers in order to attach President Trump’s name to their checks, solely for either vanity or political benefit; and President Trump inserted crass political propaganda into his public briefings, which, if created during employee work hours, could be in violation of campaign laws, like the Hatch Act.”
“These incidents appear to indicate that the Trump administration has infused political and partisan interests into its response to both the public health and economic crises,” they wrote to PRAC. “Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the president’s concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity.”
The call for additional investigations into the Trump administration’s response to the novel coronavirus comes after several other congressional lawmakers have already set up panels dedicated to investigating and providing oversight of the federal efforts.
Earlier this month, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris announced legislation Friday that would create a bipartisan 9/11-style commission to probe the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
The commission, according to the three Democrats, will “examine U.S. government preparedness in advance of this pandemic, the federal government’s response to it, and provide recommendations to improve our ability to respond to and recover from future outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.” The commission will also examine state and local governments’ preparedness and response.
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The commission is modeled after the 9/11 Commission, which was formed in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The commission would hold public hearings and events to obtain information, and, as Schiff suggested last week, would “possess subpoena power” to compel cooperation from federal, state and local governments.
The commission, though, is not expected to be established until February 2021 “hopefully after the pandemic has been overcome and after the presidential election,” they said.
That announcement came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that she would create a separate House committee to oversee the administration’s coronavirus response, chaired by Rep. James Clyburn D-S.C.
Pelosi said that committee is designed to address the “here and now,” specifically concerning the allocation of the historic amount of federal funds directed to the economic recovery, and compared it to the committee chaired by then-Sen. Harry Truman in 1941 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in defense spending in the early days of World War II.
Meanwhile, Trump earlier this month removed Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine, who was tasked with monitoring the coronavirus economic relief plan. The president temporarily appointed the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor the implementation of the new law.
A Congressional Oversight Commission and other positions, though, have been established to supervise spending by the Department of the Treasury and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.