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Washington, D.C. March 13, 2020 – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, urging him to ensure that the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak is grounded in scientific fact and is not distorted by politics. The senators’ letter addresses reports that the Trump Administration has repeatedly ignored the advice of public health experts in favor of promoting the Administration’s political priorities.
During the evacuation of Americans from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, an unclear chain of command led to other federal agencies overruling scientific advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the evacuated passengers were diverted from a FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness in Alabama after President Trump personally requested that the passengers be moved to an alternate location. In addition, White House officials reportedly overruled CDC officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile people refrain from commercial air travel, and Vice President Pence has recently moved to centralize all communications through his office-running the risk of muzzling public health experts’ warnings out of concern for their political or economic consequences.
“As it becomes clear that the virus is spreading more widely in the United States, it is imperative that decisions on how to handle and treat infected patients be made based on the best scientific information available and guided by public health considerations, not politics,” the senators wrote in their letter.
The senators also expressed concern with the composition of the Task Force, which includes only six out of twenty members with medical backgrounds, and includes several advisors with close ties to the pharmaceutical industry who have a potential conflict of interest in the federal government’s response to the outbreak.
“The global coronavirus emergency may be the most significant health and safety challenge to confront your Administration. Elevating public health expertise over political interests is crucial to crafting an effective response and maintaining public confidence in the administration’s response to the crisis,” the senators continued.
To address their concerns, the senators asked the Vice President how he will protect communications and the decision-making process from political interference, including details on the process for reviewing public communications and the protocol for relocating patients across national borders or state lines, as well as how the vaccine or treatment development process will be protected from conflicts of interest related to pharmaceutical company ties.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and that the U.S. has the resources needed to address this threat. Her ongoing efforts include urging VP Pence to take swift, specific action to support Massachusetts and other states as they combat the spread of COVID-19; introducing legislation that would generate an estimated $10 billion in funding for coronavirus efforts by shifting funding from President Trump’s border wall; and asking the CEOs of the U.S.-based “Too Big to Fail” banks how they are preparing to mitigate the economic risks of the outbreak of the coronavirus.