Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Fight Political Interference in National COVID-19 Response amid Alarming Instances of Trump Administration Meddling in Scientific Work

September 23, 2020

**The legislation would create a task force charged with conducting a thorough investigation into any political interference with decisions made by scientific agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the pandemic response**

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and a group of Senators introduced the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act, legislation to fight back against political interference by the Trump administration in the work of experts and the nation’s public health agencies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation was led by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

“200,000 Americans have lost their lives from COVID-19, while millions more continue to face its devastating economic and public health impacts. During a time when Americans need steady leadership and sound guidance, the Trump administration has prioritized partisan politics over science on too many occasions,” said Senator Shaheen. “Now more than ever, the independence and integrity of our public scientists and health experts must be protected. The STOP Act will hold the administration accountable, provide transparency and help ensure the scientific and medical guidance Americans are relying on during this crisis remains free of dangerous political interference. I urge my Republican colleagues to support this legislation that will put the health and wellbeing of the American people – not partisan politics – first.”

The STOP Act would create a task force of the Pandemic Response and Accountability Committee charged with conducting a thorough investigation into any political interference with decisions made by scientific agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the pandemic response. These reports would be released to committees of jurisdiction and could be made public so Americans and independent experts can see with full transparency whether scientists were unimpeded in their work or a product was pushed for political reasons. Additionally, the task force would have full discretion to release any information that it deems is in the public interest and may be important to public safety. The push for additional oversight of the Trump administration comes following a barrage of alarming instances of Trump officials undermining the work of public health agencies on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

-         September, 18: The New York Times reports that Secretary Azar has barred the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from signing any new rules without his approval.

-         September, 18: The New York Times and Washington Post report further on how Trump Administration political appointees tried to silence Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts.

-         September, 15: Politico expands on previous reporting to note that Secretary Azar overruled the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when Azar moved to loosen oversight of COVID-19 testing and allow unreliable tests to flood the market.

-         September, 14: The New York Times reports that the spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services has promoted false conspiracy theories about the work of experts and scientists at the nation’s public health agencies.

-         September, 12: The New York Times reports that the Trump Administration pressured officials at the FDA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to authorize convalescent plasma therapy before their review of its safety and effectiveness were complete.

-         September, 11: Politico reports that politically appointed Trump Administration officials demanded oversight of reports from CDC experts, and have worked to edit and append findings from CDC experts in its flagship scientific publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

-         September, 9: Politico reports that a Trump Administration appointee was attempting to dictate talking points to NIH officials.

-         September 4: President Trump contradicts his own experts, and says a vaccine will be ready in October.

-         August, 26: CNN reports that the CDC was pressured by the Trump Administration to alter its testing guidance to be more restrictive. (this guidance has since been reversed)

-         August, 22: President Trump tweets accusing the FDA of holding back a vaccine, writing, “The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives! @SteveFDA”

The administration’s interference in the work of the nation’s public health agencies far precedes this most recent string of alarming examples. President Trump promoted hyrdoxychloroquine as an unproven treatment for COVID-19, and reportedly removed the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for insisting this claim be scientifically vetted. Trump administration officials also blocked and contradicted CDC guidance meant to help schools, workplaces, and communities reopen.  

See full text of the Science and Transparency Over Politics Act HERE.