House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday slammed the Trump administration’s move to restrict coronavirus task force members from testifying before Congress this month.
“I was hoping they would spend more time on the crisis instead of those daily shows that the President put on,” the California Democrat said.
“We will be very strictly insisting on the truth and they might be afraid of the truth,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
The White House issued a memo seeking to limit task force members’ hearing appearances after recently blocking Dr. Anthony Fauci from testifying before a House subcommittee this week. Fauci is still expected to appear before a Republican-led Senate committee later this month.
Pelosi said given the trillions of dollars being spent on the coronavirus response, members are entitled to get information to determine how best to allocate the money.
“The fact is that we need to allocate resources for (the coronavirus response). In order to do that, any appropriations bill must begin in the House and we have to have information to act upon (it),” she said. “So the fact that they said, ‘We’re too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol’ is, well, business as usual for them. But it is not business that will be helpful to addressing this.”
The memo from the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, obtained by CNN, states that “(f)or the month of May, no Task Force members, or key deputies of Task Force members, may accept hearing invitations.” The only exceptions to the new rule would be with Meadows’ “express approval.”
The memo also limits to the number of witnesses agencies tasked with the “primary response” for the pandemic can provide this month.
“For primary response departments, including HHS, DHS, and State, in order to preserve department-wide resources, no more than one COVID-related hearing should be agreed to with the department’s primary House and Senate authorizing committee and appropriations subcommittee in the month of May, for a total of no more than four COVID-related hearings department-wide,” the memo states.
The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.
A senior administration official confirmed the new policy to CNN on Monday, saying that members of the task force have received instructions informing them of this new policy. The official claimed that task force members need to focus on their work, not on preparing to deliver testimony.
“During the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, Task Force members were on the Hill 24/7. They’ve been working non-stop since the beginning, and the workload has not diminished,” the official said. “Given the continual press briefings and agency-led briefings with committees, I don’t think anyone can reasonably say we aren’t being transparent, but we need to make sure the Task Force members have the time they need to focus on the task at hand, not on preparing for 4-hour hearings several times a week.”
Last Friday, the White House blocked Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, from testifying before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies regarding Covid-19 response.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Saturday said Fauci was prohibited from testifying because committee members did not provide enough details to explain why Fauci needed to participate.
“When we pressed for details as to why Dr. Fauci in particular was the right person for the testimony and this hearing, those details were never provided,” McEnany said in a Fox News interview.
She also told reporters that the administration wanted to make sure that the “subject matter of the hearing matched the individual they’re requesting” and in this case, “there was never any clarity given forth as to what the actual subject matter of this hearing would be.”
But Fauci and other administration officials will “absolutely” be allowed to testify before other House committees in the future, McEnany added.
Fauci is still expected to testify before the Republican-led Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Republican sources and a source close to the task force told CNN.
Sources on Capitol Hill said that the White House has relayed that they will limit the number of coronavirus task force witnesses they provide for congressional testimony, but not stop these testimonies altogether.
And while McEnany said the White House is open to providing officials as witnesses during testimony in the Democratic-led House, the source close to the task force said the administration is more amenable to testimony in the Republican-held Senate.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Jeremy Diamond and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.