Select Subcommittee Finds White House Task Force Weakened Recommendations as Infection Rates Rose
Washington, D.C. (September 16, 2020) — Today, Rep. James E. Clyburn, Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx Task Force raising concerns that the Task Force has weakened or retracted previous science-based recommendations in numerous states still in the “red zone,” including states that failed to comply with previous Task Force recommendations. The letter also demands the release of all White House Coronavirus Task Force reports tracking the spread of the virus and making recommendations to contain the outbreak.
“In light of President Trump’s admission that he has downplayed the coronavirus crisis to the public—stating in March 2020, ‘I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down’—I am concerned that recent changes in the Task Force’s recommendations are part of a broader pattern of the federal government retracting or altering science-based recommendations in response to political pressure from high-ranking officials,” wrote the Chairman. “With more than 6.6 million Americans infected with the coronavirus and more than 195,000 dying thus far, and tens of thousands more getting infected and hundreds more dying each day, it is imperative not only that the Task Force’s scientific assessments and recommendations not be interfered with by the White House for political purposes, but also that these reports be shared with the public.”
A leaked September 6, 2020, report, disclosed by ABC News, shows a marked departure from the Task Force’s previous recommendations, indicating the Task Force may be weakening its recommendations for states where the virus is still spreading rapidly—including Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota—as part of the Administration’s efforts to downplay the severity of the virus.
For example, the Task Force warned Nebraska on August 23, “A mask mandate needs to be implemented statewide.” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate and has tried to block local jurisdictions from enacting mask requirements. Cases have surged across the state in recent weeks, and the September 6 Task Force report found that Nebraska has the highest number of new cases and the highest rate of new cases per 100,000 population that the state has seen since the Task Force started issuing reports on June 23. Yet, on September 6, the Task Force dropped its recommendation for a statewide mask mandate and instead only recommended requiring masks in “metro areas and counties with COVID-19 cases among students or teachers in K-12 schools.”
In North Dakota, despite a sharp increase in cases, the Task Force’s September 6 report watered down or removed previous recommendations to mandate masks, close bars and gyms, limit restaurant capacity, and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
“I am concerned that after months of political pressure from President Trump, the Task Force appears to have weakened some of these reports’ scientific recommendations, including for states that failed to follow prior guidance and are now facing severe outbreaks,” the Chairman continued. “Hiding reports and watering down recommendations will not save American lives. It is imperative that the Task Force be led by science—not politics—and that its unvarnished recommendations be laid bare to the American people and incorporated into a national plan to finally get this pandemic under control.”
On July 29, 2020, the Select Subcommittee requested unpublished Task Force reports from the White House and wrote to several states regarding their plans to comply with the Task Force’s recommendations. On August 31, the Select Subcommittee released eight Task Force reports dated June 23 to August 9, 2020, that the White House had previously kept private. These reports directly contradicted the Administration’s rosy public statements downplaying the threat of the virus.
Today’s letter requests that the White House produce copies of all Task Force reports, memoranda, presentations, and assessments to the Select Subcommittee by September 23, 2020. It also requests that new reports be provided to the Select Subcommittee within three days of the document’s issuance and renews earlier requests for documents and information on whether states are complying with the Task Force’s recommendations and steps the Administration is taking to enforce recommendations nationwide.
Click here to read today’s letter to Vice President Pence and Dr. Birx.