The White House is barring members of its coronavirus task force from testifying on Capitol Hill this month without approval from chief of staff Mark Meadows — citing an “extraordinary” demand on the administration’s resources as it continues to address the pandemic.
That guidance applies to task force members as well as key deputies of such officials, according to a memo distributed to committee staff directors Monday afternoon and obtained by The Washington Post. Exceptions are allowed “only with the express approval” of Meadows.
Departments at the front lines of the pandemic response, such as Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State, are limited to no more than four virus-related hearings this month, according to the memo, which says “the demands on agencies’ staff and resources are extraordinary in this current crisis.”
“Agencies must maximize their resources for COVID-19 response efforts and treat hearing requests accordingly,” the memo reads. “Given these competing demands in these unprecedented times, it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused on implementing of COVID-19 response, including declining to participate in multiple hearings on the same or overlapping topics.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded to news of the memo in an interview on CNN on Monday night. She argued that the task force members spend more time on “the daily shows the president puts on” than on addressing the crisis.
“The fact that they said we’re too busy [being] on TV to come to the Capitol is, well, business as usual for them,” Pelosi said. “But it is not business that will be helpful to addressing this. … We must insist on the truth.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) also sharply criticized the memo, saying in a statement Monday night that Trump’s “failure to accept the truth and then his desire to hide it, is one of the chief reasons we are lagging behind so many other countries in beating this scourge.”
Last week, the White House blocked Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases official, from testifying before a panel in the Democratic-led House, saying that it would be “counterproductive” for him to do so amid the pandemic. But Fauci and other administration officials will still testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on May 12 for a hearing on testing after getting clearance from Meadows, a senior administration official said.