March 10, 2020

Warren, Markey Press Pence for Answers Following Trump's Rambling Coronavirus Press Conference at CDC

President Spread Politicized Disinformation About Federal Efforts to Combat Outbreak, Suggested He Was More Concerned with Keeping "Numbers" Low Than with Following Expert Advice

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and Senate Aging Committees, and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Task Force on Coronavirus, expressing their concern about the troubling press conference held on Friday, March 6, 2020, by President Trump, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar.

The press conference-at which President Trump made a series of false, politicized, and nonsensical statements about the federal government's response to the coronavirus outbreak-came at the end of a grim week of news regarding the spread of COVID-19. The nation learned that there have been more than a dozen reported deaths from COVID-19 and that the virus had been spreading in the country for weeks, with schools and institutions of higher education announcing closures and over 3,500 passengers on the coronavirus-infected Grand Princess cruise ship stuck in a "hellish" quarantine as Administration officials debated whether to allow the ship to dock in the United States.  

Despite these problems, President Trump was praised at Friday's press conference by CDC Director Redfield for his "decisive leadership" in the public health crisis, and the President made numerous comments suggesting that he does not understand the contours nor gravity of COVID-19's spread. He claimed, among other things, that "anybody that needs a test, gets a test"-a statement that is not accurate and served to spread confusion about testing protocols and test accessibility-and when asked about the status of the individuals on the Grand Princess ship, he indicated that he was more interested in keeping the reported "numbers" of coronavirus infections low than in objectively assessing the crisis and providing needed medical care and preventing the spread of the virus.

In their letter to Vice President Pence, Senators Warren and Markey expressed concern with the President's statements, which threaten to confuse the public and medical professionals about how to respond to COVID-19 and undermine an already slow and mismanaged response to the disease.

"Friday's press conference was a disservice to the nation and the non-partisan scientists and public health experts at the CDC and across the federal government," the senators wrote. "It is essential that the response you are directing is guided by scientific evidence and principles, rather than aimed at misdirected goals of assuaging the President's ego and hiding his lack of public health knowledge from the American people."

The senators also asked the Vice President to clarify President Trump's comments, and to provide additional information about the Administration's policy on how to handle the quarantined individuals on the Grand Princess ship.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus 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 the following:

  • Senator Warren, along with Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to urge the agencies to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities as the nation prepares for potential outbreaks of COVID-19.
  • Senator Warren joined HELP Ranking Member Parry Murray (D-Wash.) and eight other Democratic senators in requesting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos provide details about the Department's coronavirus preparedness and response efforts and how the Department plans to protect students, teachers, and other school staff in the event of an outbreak.
  • Senator Warren also joined HELP Committee Ranking Member, Senator Murray, and their seven Democratic HELP Committee colleagues to request Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia provide details about the Department's coronavirus preparedness and response efforts and how the Department plans to protect the safety, health, and economic security of workers and their families in light of the increasing threat from the coronavirus.  
  • Senator Warren sent letters to the CEOs of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- the U.S.-based "Too Big to Fail" banks with the largest foreign exposures -- asking about how they are monitoring and preparing to mitigate the economic risks of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren introduced legislation requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall -- including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts -- to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled CDC recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
  • Senator Warren joined Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed concerns over the Trump Administration's failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
  • Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
  • On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
  • On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency's 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
  • Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. "growing reliance" on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD) seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.