October 31, 2020

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Democratic chairman says White House blocked FDA commissioner from testifying

The White House blocked Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn from testifying before the House panel overseeing the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, its Democratic leaders announced Friday.  

“The American people deserve to hear Commissioner Hahn’s response to those concerns during a public hearing and what actions he is taking to ensure that the agency’s COVID-19 decisions remain science-based,” Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Anna EshooAnna Georges EshooHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg acknowledges failure to take down Kenosha military group despite warnings | Election officials push back against concerns over mail-in voting, drop boxes Democrat asks intel agencies if they’re surveilling members of Congress Overnight Health Care: Supreme Court to hear ObamaCare arguments 1 week after election | NYC positive COVID-19 tests hit record low MORE (D-Calif.), who chairs its health subcommittee, said in a statement. “The White House’s muzzling of the FDA’s top scientist further injures public trust and confidence in FDA.”

Earlier this week Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy also accused the White House of blocking trade advisor Peter Navarro from testifying before their panel.

A White House spokesperson told The Hill Hahn was blocked from testifying because it’s “part of the administration’s existing protocol to make sure health officials can keep their time and energy focused on responding to the coronavirus.”

Hahn has testified before Congress four times since the start of the pandemic, the last time being in late June. Since then, three potential coronavirus vaccines moved to phase three trials, which will determine safety and effectiveness. 

Democrats have been skeptical of the administration’s vaccine efforts, which they say may be overlooking important safety measures in an effort to have results before the November elections. 

“I am often asked about how and when FDA will authorize or approve a vaccine to protect against [coronavirus]. Here is my answer: when the agency’s scientific experts have completed their review and are ready to do so, and not a moment before,” Hahn tweeted Friday. 

Late last month Hahn ousted Trump-appointed spokesperson Emily Miller after 11 days on the job amid the fallout over the agency’s decision to issue an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients.

Michael Caputo, a Trump-appointed Health and Human Services (HHS) communications official, announced Wednesday he was taking medical leave after making “comments that reflected poorly on the office and HHS.”

Hahn is still scheduled to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday, alongside infectious disease expert Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Health Care: CDC reverses controversial testing guidance | Billions more could be needed for vaccine distribution | Study examines danger of in-flight COVID-19 transmission Trump claims enough COVID-19 vaccines will be ready for every American by April Gates says travel ban made COVID-19 worse in US MORE, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield and HHS testing czar Brett Giroir.

Updated: 9:35 p.m.

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