Undercurrent

Complaints about White House handling of COVID-19 aired at U.S. Senate hearing

By: - January 11, 2022 2:01 pm

“Hospital emergency departments in my home state of Nevada have seen a significant increase in people coming solely for tests because there just aren’t enough alternatives,” Rosen told coronavirus response officials. “This is only adding to the stress on our health systems…”

WASHINGTON–Senators from both political parties, including Nevada Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, expressed their frustration with the Biden administration coronavirus response team during a Tuesday hearing that keyed in on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on vaccines, as well as the shortage of COVID-19 tests available for Americans.

The hearing also was highlighted by a tense exchange between Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall and White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci that ended with Fauci on a hot mic calling Marshall a “moron.”

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee members pressed CDC officials on how the Biden administration plans to fight the omicron variant, which has quickly spread throughout the country crippling hospitals, closing schools and straining testing sites.

They also said there aren’t enough at-home COVID-19 test kits or other testing options available for members of the public.

“We do know that home test kits are scarce, Americans are standing in extremely long lines to get a COVID test, and hospital emergency departments in my home state of Nevada have seen a significant increase in people coming solely for tests because there just aren’t enough alternatives,” Rosen said.

“This is only adding to the stress on our health systems… Nevada has been expanding our testing options, but increased federal support on the ground, in addition to home testing, we feel is absolutely critical, and in the future the federal response must be more proactive.”

The White House recently announced plans to send out 500 million tests directly to Americans who request them, but those tests could take weeks to be delivered.

Dawn O’Connell, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services, said making sure schools have enough testing supplies is a priority for the agency.

She said the administration invested $10 billion in the American Rescue Plan that was allocated to states for testing programs and provided $650 million to a program called Operation Expanded Testing, which sets up regional testing hubs that schools can make contracts with for testing.

“But that doesn’t work if tests aren’t available,” O’Connell said. “So ASPR (Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response) is working directly with states to match additional manufacturing capacity with states that need it.”

The director of the Atlanta-based CDC, Rochelle Walensky, said that the agency will continue to update its guidance as the agency learns more information about the coronavirus and its variants.

Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made a similar prediction, stressing the need for Americans to continue to get vaccinated and wear protective masks.

“There will inevitably be another variant,” he said.

Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, asked the witnesses for an update on vaccines for children 4 and under. He said that many parents are anxious to vaccinate their children.

Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, said that the agency is working as quickly as possible “so that vaccines are available for the youngest children.”

Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and the ranking member of the committee, said he was frustrated by the guidance released by the CDC and on the White House’s messaging on COVID-19 boosters. Booster shots initially were recommended just for a subset of the population by federal health officials, but in late November the advice shifted to all adults over 18 as variants began to spread.

“The way this administration rolled out boosters was a disaster,” Burr said. “The American people are right to be confused.”

Burr added that he received his booster shot, but said the Biden administration was not clear in its messaging urging Americans to get their booster until the delta variant spread in the U.S.

Walensky said that the CDC recently expanded eligibility for booster shots for children ages 12 to 15 within five months after their second Pfizer or Moderna dose.

Marshall during his turn questioned Fauci’s personal finances and asked if he would submit his disclosures to Congress.

Fauci said his financial disclosures have been public for more than 30 years as he’s served in the federal government. Marshall said he has not been able to have access to that information.

“What are you talking about?” Fauci responded. “My financial disclosures are public knowledge. You are getting amazingly wrong information.”

Marshall continued to press him on where his staff would find the information. Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray stepped in and said that Fauci would get that information to Marshall’s staff.

“What a moron,” Fauci said quietly at the conclusion of the exchange, but his microphone picked it up.

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

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