Oct. 2 (UPI) — Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared before Congress Friday to testify about the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. James Clyburn, chair of the House oversight and reform select subcommittee, said the hearing will examine the administration’s unprecedented political interference in the work of scientists and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The hearing will also focus on the Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to provide accurate and clear public health information and the failure to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan to contain the virus, Clyburn said.
The subcommittee in September opened an investigation into how Trump appointees have pressured CDC officials to change or delay scientific reports on COVID-19.
Azar’s testimony comes after the HHS assistant secretary for public affairs, Michael Caputo, began a 60-day medical leave of absence last month after promoting conspiracies about the agency on his Facebook page.
In a since-deleted video, Caputo accused the CDC of harboring a “resistance unit” to undermine Trump.
As part of its investigation, the subcommittee demanded that the Trump administration turn over communications by CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and documents from Azar, Caputo and his scientific adviser Paul Alexander, who resigned from the agency when Caputo took his leave.
Azar last testified on Capitol Hill in February, before COVID-19 arrived on a large scale in the United States. At the time, he addressed mixed messages from the Trump administration and CDC about the virus’ potential danger.
Azar said then the risk was “very low” and noted there were just 14 confirmed cases in the United States. The national total has since eclipsed 7 million.
“From a public health perspective, we are technically in a state of containment in the U.S.,” he said at the time.
About 208,000 patients in the United States have died since the start of the pandemic.