Murray on Trump administration’s COVID-19 response: President Trump “failed and continues to fail”

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, US Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered opening remarks at a HELP Committee hearing on the COVID-19 crisis and the need to improve testing. In her remarks, Sen. Murray sharply criticized the Trump administration for its handling of the crisis over the last few months.

“Our committee’s last hearing on COVID-19 was on March 3rd. During that hearing I expressed my intense frustration at the administration’s lack of preparedness, its failure to ramp up testing, the White House’s constant contradictions of public health experts’ guidance, and more. More than 60 days later, I wish I could say that I had better things to say about the administration’s response, but I do not,” said Sen. Murray.

“The only difference is that now, over 800 people in my home state have died, nationwide over 73,000 people are dead, and tens of millions are unemployed. Meanwhile, the President is still denying the severity of this crisis, he is still insisting it is not his problem, and he is increasingly attempting to control and silence those who want the truth to be told. The President is afraid of the truth, because here it is: he failed – and continues to fail – to protect lives, our economy, and our way of life.”

Sen. Murray also spoke at length about the need for the Trump administration to release and implement a national plan to rapidly ramp up testing. Sen. Murray secured language in Congress’s most recent COVID-19 response legislation requiring the Trump administration to submit such a plan by May 24. In her remarks, Sen. Murray stressed the importance of this plan, and detailed the issues the administration’s plan needs to address.

“The problem isn’t a lack of innovation – it’s a lack of national leadership, and a plan from the White House. You can innovate the fastest car in the world; it still won’t get you where you’re going without a good driver and good directions. And when it comes to testing, this administration has had no map, and no one at the wheel,” said Sen. Murray. “There’s a reason they say failing to plan is planning to fail, and it absolutely applies here… No matter how innovative our tests are, we can’t reopen our country safely until they are fast, free, and everywhere.”

Testifying at today’s hearing were Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Gary Disbrow, acting director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The HELP Committee will have another hearing on the COVID-19 response next Tuesday with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health; Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health; and Dr. Stephen Hahn, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Read Sen. Murray’s full remarks below:

“Thank you, Chairman Alexander. I’d also like to thank our committee staff who helped set up the technology to make this hearing possible, and our witnesses, for joining us today.

“Our committee’s last hearing on COVID-19 was on March 3rd. During that hearing I expressed my intense frustration at the Administration’s lack of preparedness, its failure to ramp up testing, the White House’s constant contradictions of public health experts’ guidance, and more.

“More than 60 days later, I wish I could say that I had better things to say about the Administration’s response, but I do not.

“The only difference is that now, over 800 people in my home state have died, nationwide over 73,000 people are dead, and tens of millions are unemployed.

“Meanwhile, the President is still denying the severity of this crisis, he is still insisting it is not his problem, and he is increasingly attempting to control and silence those who want the truth to be told.

“The President is afraid of the truth, because here it is: he failed – and continues to fail – to protect lives, our economy, and our way of life.

“And that brings me to our witnesses. I appreciate you being here, and I expect you to tell the truth today.

“I will want to know your honest assessment of where we stand on testing capacity, and whether we’re preparing appropriately to have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as possible. I will want to understand how you’re planning to prioritize public health over political influence and corporate profits, and I will want your commitment that you will protect workers at HHS who speak out when they see public health isn’t being put first.

“Dr. Disbrow, you’re here instead of Dr. Rick Bright, who filed a complaint earlier this week detailing a shocking, culture of corruption that prioritized cronyism over public health, including at an agency critical to vaccine development and distribution. You can expect questions from me on that, and again, I will expect the truth.

“And while I appreciate the interest in this ‘shark tank’ initiative to develop new tests, we have to remember the fight against this virus is reality – not reality television. It must be led by scientists and prioritize public health – not profits or politics.

“And while innovation plays an important role in the development of vaccines, treatments, and tests, there is no silver bullet. In fact, we’ve already innovated faster, high-throughput tests, at home collection tests, and point-of-care tests – and, critically, there is much more in the pipeline.

“The problem isn’t a lack of innovation – it’s a lack of national leadership, and a plan from the White House.

“You can innovate the fastest car in the world – it still won’t get you where you’re going without a good driver and good directions. And when it comes to testing, this administration has had no map, and no one at the wheel.

“There’s a reason they say failing to plan is planning to fail, and it absolutely applies here.

“Because the fastest, most innovative test is not much use if we don’t know how many tests we need, if we don’t have a supply chain with capacity to manufacture all the tests and supplies we need and if we don’t have the workforce and lab capacity to actually use those tests and supplies.

“And even if we had enough tests, supplies, labs, and workers, they can’t have the necessary impact if they aren’t distributed widely across the country; if they don’t reach essential workers, underserved communities, tribes, people with disabilities, homebound seniors, communities of color, and high-risk populations; if tests don’t become available to asymptomatic people; or if we don’t enforce current law that requires free testing for everyone.

“And even addressing these issues won’t be enough without plans to use testing results as effectively as possible to fight coronavirus – like rapidly recruiting, training, and sustaining the workforce we need for public health efforts like contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation, and using data to surveil and track this disease within our communities – while protecting privacy.

“Now I was pleased the administration finally told Washington state last week it would be sending all states a significant number of supplies to help expand testing capacity. However, even if they finally deliver the supplies we’ve been asking for – for months – that’s still not a plan, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

“As long as the administration refuses to look at the full picture and develop a detailed, national plan to rapidly ramp up testing, we aren’t going to make the progress we need to get people safely back to school, work, and some sense of normal life on a national scale. Because our experts won’t have the visibility into transmission they need to ensure public health drives our efforts to reopen.

“That’s why I fought to secure language in the latest COVID-19 package Congress passed that requires the administration to submit a strategic testing plan no later than May 24. I’m going to be watching closely to make sure their plan addresses all of the questions we desperately need answered.

“And I’m going to be pushing for more resources to build and sustain the testing efforts we need, support contact tracing and other public health efforts, and to plan for vaccine production and distribution so that as soon as we have an effective vaccine we can scale it up quickly and make it available and free to everyone.

“While the $25 billion we passed for testing recently was a good start, it’s going to take a lot more to get the job done.

“Yes, it will take innovation, but it will also take some semblance of leadership from the President.

“Because no matter how innovative our tests are, we can’t reopen our country safely until they are fast, free, and everywhere.

“And no matter how hard frontline workers, governors, and families work to do their part, we will still need the federal government – and its President – to step up and finally start doing its part.

“Thank you.”

Courtesy of Sen. Patty Murray

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