Azar to testify before House coronavirus subcommittee

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will appear in front of the House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis as his agency faces a whirlwind of controversies.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) announced Thursday that Azar will appear in front of the committee on Oct. 2 to testify on the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Clyburn said the hearing will “examine the Trump Administration’s unprecedented political interference in the work of scientists and public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration, the Administration’s refusal to provide accurate and clear public health information, and the failure of the Administration to develop and implement a comprehensive national plan to contain the coronavirus, more than eight months into this public health emergency.” 

Next month’s hearing will mark the first time Azar has testified before Congress since February, according to Clyburn. 

Democrats have torn into the administration’s handling of the pandemic, which has now killed more than 197,000 people in America and infected over 6.6 million. 

The announcement of Azar’s testimony comes as the Department of Health and Human Services faces a flood of criticism from Democrats that it has worked to politicize the government’s response to the pandemic, accusations Azar has so far not addressed in depth. 

Reports have surfaced in recent weeks that Michael Caputo, the agency’s top communications official who announced Wednesday he was taking medical leave, tried to pressure scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to edit their weekly reports on the pandemic and accused the CDC in a video of harboring a “resistance unit” opposing President TrumpDonald John TrumpBarr criticizes DOJ in speech declaring all agency power ‘is invested in the attorney general’ Military leaders asked about using heat ray on protesters outside White House: report Powell warns failure to reach COVID-19 deal could ‘scar and damage’ economy MORE.

In the same video, Caputo urged Trump’s followers to prepare for an armed insurrection if Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Memo: Warning signs flash for Trump on debates Senate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden National postal mail handlers union endorses Biden MORE loses the election and refuses to concede.

Democrats have also voiced concerns over remarks Trump has made about a “deep state” at the Food and Drug Administration as he pressures the agency to move faster on approvals of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

Lawmakers have said Azar has not done enough to blunt the White House’s efforts to politicize the pandemic response, and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Pelosi, Schumer ‘encouraged’ by Trump call for bigger coronavirus relief package Schumer, Sanders call for Senate panel to address election security MORE (D-N.Y.) this week called on him to resign. 

“It has become abundantly clear that the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services has allowed perhaps the most important federal agency right

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BIRTHDAY OF THE DAY: Sandeep Prasanna, subcommittee director for intelligence and counterterrorism on the House Homeland Security Committee

How/where are you celebrating your birthday and with whom? “I had a fun, low-key weekend — Saturday was spent jumping around outdoor distilleries and breweries in Northeast D.C., and ended with takeout from one of our favorite spots, Maketto. Today is the first day of session after August recess, so I’ll be teleworking at home with my partner, Ryan, and our cats, Idli and Chutney, squeezing in a few video calls with family and friends throughout the day. Tonight, I’m actually teaching my first evening class of the semester at Georgetown Law, so it’ll be a late night in the office, aka our dining table.”

How did you get your start in politics? “Like many fledgling lawyers looking for work on Capitol Hill, I was stuck in job hunt purgatory for a long time — graduate degree but no Hill experience, underqualified for counsel positions but passed over for entry-level positions. I got my start in the Senate when Sen. [Richard] Blumenthal and his staff took a chance on me, offering me a spot on his Judiciary team as a legislative correspondent. It wasn’t easy balancing law school debt on a junior staffer salary, but I took the opportunity and ran with it. It felt fulfilling to work on a portfolio I cared deeply about, learning from some of the best in the business.”

What’s an interesting book/article you’re reading during coronavirus social distancing? And why? “I recently finished ‘Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity,’ written by Duke scientists Brian Hare (my thesis adviser!) and Vanessa Woods. They walk us through the research that shows that humans may often be cruel to one another, but we’re also uniquely cooperative — and that’s what has made us successful as a species. Survival of the friendliest. It’s a science-based call to action for us to reimagine and expand who ‘belongs’ in our communities in order to harness the better angels that are built into our very DNA. I’m a little biased, but we need this book now more than ever.”

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