Ways and Means Chairman Demands Answers on Editorial Process for COVID Reports

September 15, 2020 by Dan McCue
Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal .(Neal.House.Gov/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday demanded Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar shed light on how his department has handled coronavirus-related reports.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., sent a strongly worded letter to Azar following reports the department “improperly interfered” with reports issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent days several news organizations have followed Politico’s lead in reporting that appointees of President Trump at HHS altered coronavirus-related reports so they would be more politically beneficial to the president.

HHS communications aides, led by Trump-appointed spokesman Michael Caputo — a former Roger Stone associate with no medical or scientific background — reportedly demanded the right to review and change weekly scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control.

At times, the reports states, Caputo and others complained the reports would undermine President Trump’s rosy public pronouncements about the coronavirus.

In his letter, Neal said he wants to see detailed information on relevant publication processes and also wants to know what, if any, directive HHS received from the White House.

In addition, he wants the names and titles of any HHS political appointees involved in the publication of the reports in question and their contributions during the editorial process. 

“As the nation continues to grapple with the devastating consequences of this pandemic, any administration action to manipulate or suppress critical public health information is unconscionable, as it has the potential to increase the risk of COVID-19-related harm,” Neal wrote.

“As you know, the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) series has long served as a critical tool to inform state and local public health officials, health care providers, researchers, and the general public about infectious diseases and other ongoing public health developments —regardless of the political party of the administration in charge,” the chairman said.

Neal said he is “deeply troubled” by the reports and noted that “being a source of objective, life-saving scientific data … should continue to be a source of pride for the CDC.”

“Unfortunately, these reported actions fit within a troubling pattern of poor judgment this administration continues to exercise in responding to this pandemic, including tailoring the facts to fit a desired narrative and playing down the severity of the risks of COVID-19 to various populations,” the chairman said.

Neal gave Azar until Sept. 22 to provide the requested information. 

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