February 13, 2020

Warren, Murray, Senate Colleagues Urge National Security Advisor to Appoint a Senior Global Health Security Expert as U.S. and Global Threat from Coronavirus Grows

For almost two years, no dedicated senior public health expert has been in place as head of global health security at the National Security Council

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), led 25 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien pressing him to appoint a qualified, dedicated, senior global health security expert to the White House's National Security Council (NSC) to address and coordinate administration efforts in response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and other global health security threats.

The lawmakers urged immediate action because the top global public health position at the NSC has remained vacant for almost two years. Senators Warren and Murray sent a May 2018 letter to then-National Security Advisor John Bolton raising concerns about this vacancy and asking a series of questions about how the NSC would handle global health security threats - but received no response.

Joining the letter are U.S Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai'i), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

"These questions are even more salient today," wrote the lawmakers, citing the more than 44,000 people in more than 20 countries who have contracted the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,100 people.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on January 31, 2020, HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in the United States.

"Families concerned about the novel coronavirus threat need to know the NSC has a dedicated, senior official with appropriate expertise and authority to address the domestic and global health threats from the virus. It is of paramount importance that this person approaches this role through a public health lens," wrote the lawmakers. "We urge immediate action."

The lawmakers have requested responses to their letter by February 27, 2020.

As a member of the HELP Committee, Senator Warren believes in promoting the country's public health.

  • On January 31, 2020, Senator Warren and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) sent a letter to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) requesting information regarding the agency's recent decision to shutter PREDICT, a program established to identify and combat viruses that may generate global pandemics, including the recent coronavirus. 
  • On January 28, 2020, Senator Warren joined her colleagues in pressing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • On January 28, 2020, Senators Warren and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) also requested an update from the CDC on the agency's efforts to study the epidemiology of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and prepare for the upcoming mosquito season. Their letter follows a record number of EEE cases reported nationwide in 2019, with 12 confirmed cases in Massachusetts and 3 deaths.
  • In December 2019, Senator Warren announced the reintroduction of the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, which would establish a new Office of Drug Manufacturing at HHS and require the Office to manufacture antibiotics, as well as other essential generic drugs. 
  • In March 2019, Senator Warren discussed the importance of vaccines to preventing and controlling disease outbreaks.