In a move that renews the House Oversight Committee’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s pandemic response, Rep. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) has requested assistance from the White House in finding more information and documents to help them delve deeper into the matter.
In his request, Clyburn says that the panel has unearthed evidence, via emails, that the Trump administration was “deeply involved” in the decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to weaken testing guidance.
In August, much to the chagrin of public health officials, the CDC changed its guidance on COVID testing and discouraged asymptomatic people from getting tested, even if they knew that they had come in contact with someone with the virus. This guidance flew in the face of the fact that research showed that asymptomatic people play a large role in spreading the virus. The agency retracted the guidance in October.
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“This guidance was weakened in order to hide evidence that the virus was spreading rapidly among asymptomatic people,” wrote Clyburn in a letter to President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain. “According to an internal email obtained by the Select Subcommittee, the Trump Administration wanted to stop testing of ‘asymptomatic infections in low risk people’ because these tests were causing infected people to quarantine, which one political appointee complained was ‘preventing the workforce from working’ and would not allow schools and colleges to ‘optimally re-open.’”
The political appointee that Clyburn references is Paul Alexander, who was appointed by Trump ally Michael Caputo and was a science adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at the time. Previously unearthed emails have shown Alexander also advocating for the “herd immunity” strategy in the summer that later took hold among members of the Trump administration. Politico reported that Alexander was a top deputy to Caputo and, when communicating with the CDC, spoke on behalf of the White House.
Though it has been suspected that the Trump administration was responsible for the change of guidance, the recent evidence confirms these suspicions in a more concrete way.
In the emails that lawmakers recently obtained, Alexander is defending CDC’s guidance change and also implies that he had a hand in making the changes, saying that “we felt the guidance needed a bit of updat[ing].”
The panel also obtained email exchanges between Alexander, Caputo and others in which Caputo emphasizes the administration’s need for Alexander to make the case that the economy needed to reopen, which was Trump’s focus at the time.
Alexander said he was seeking out statistics on the effects of not reopening schools and businesses in May, to which Caputo replied: “This is singularly important to what you and I want to achieve.” Alexander’s emails about herd immunity, a strategy that some have likened to eugenics, were sent several weeks after.
The letters come a day after Biden said in his first network interview as president on Sunday that the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic was “even more dire than we thought.” After having inherited the consequences of Trump’s pandemic response, Biden’s COVID team has discovered many deep problems, from millions of missing vaccine doses to the complete lack of a coherent vaccine distribution plan.