WASHINGTON — The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a hearing titled “Oversight of CDC Policies and Decisions During the COVID-19 Pandemic” to examine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) response to the pandemic and delve into their numerous ineffectual public policy decisions. Select Subcommittee members pointed out CDC Director Walensky’s inconsistent COVID-19 guidance that led to public confusion and distrust in America’s health authorities that still remain today. Notably, Director Walensky directly contradicted the Biden White House’s false assertation that she spoke in her “personal” capacity with respect to comments she made supportive of schools reopening in February of 2021. Members also pushed Director Walensky to explain the CDC’s role in censoring dissenting opinions on social media, monitoring vaccine adverse events reporting systems, and providing misleading political guidance in lieu of scientific guidance to Americans. The Select Subcommittee will continue to demand transparency and accountability from the CDC following the departure of Director Walensky and continue to work to ensure all document and interview requests are fulfilled.
CDC Director Walensky confirmed that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) promoted prolonged school closures that harmed America’s children.
When America faced a public health crisis and turned to the CDC for help and guidance, the CDC provided misguided, unscientific, confusing, and at times blatantly false answers.
AFT President Randi Weingarten had a direct line to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s personal and professional cellphones — raising further questions about potential political influence at the CDC.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky testified that she spoke in her capacity as CDC Director during a White House briefing in February 2021. The Biden White House’s claim that her statements were made in her “personal” capacity when discussing school reopenings and vaccinations for teachers was false.
Public health officials and organizations — including the CDC — must be held accountable for their failures and false statements during the pandemic in order to earn back the trust of Americans.
The CDC needs structural reform to address current information and infrastructure issues, lack of transparency within the agency, and processes surrounding guidance publication.
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) asked Director Walensky to confirm AFT’s uncommon influence over the CDC’s COVID-19 school reopening guidance.
Chairman Wenstrup: “Did the American Federation of Teachers provide suggested edits to the CDC’s February 2021 school opening guidance, including a trigger to automatically close schools that, if implemented, would have kept more schools closed and kids out of the classroom?”
Director Walensky: “The AFT was interested in having closure triggers. That is my understanding, yes.”
Chairman Wenstrup: “So your answer is yes?”
Director Walensky: “Yes.”
Chairman Wenstrup also pointed out concerning behavior by the Biden White House that raises further questions about political interference in science-based guidance.
Chairman Wenstrup: “On February 3, 2021, you stated ‘there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated. Vaccinations of teachers is not a prerequisite for safely reopening schools.’ The same day the White House stated that you were speaking in your ‘personal capacity.’ So, again, just yes or no, were you speaking in your personal capacity when you made that statement?”
Director Walensky: “Whenever I have been speaking to Congress, to the media, at press conferences during my tenure at CDC, I have been speaking in my professional capacity.”
Chairman Wenstrup: “Why do you think the White House contradicted you then or tried to change it from professional to personal?”
Director Walensky: “That is something I can’t speculate to. I think you’ll have to ask them.”
Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) pressed Director Walensky to explain the CDC’s role in censoring dissenting opinions on social media related to COVID-19 vaccines and origins.
Chairman Comer: “Did the CDC work with private companies to influence the censorship of dissent about vaccines?”
Director Walensky: “You know, that topic is one that is under litigation in the courts, so I will not be speaking to that.”
Chairman Comer: “Did the CDC ever recommend that Facebook or other companies censor posts promoting the lab leak theory?”
Director Walensky: “These are all situations that are under court litigation. I will not be speaking on it.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) revealed that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had access to Director Walensky’s personal and professional direct line, while American parents were left unable to advocate for their children’s education.
Rep. Lesko: “In an April 26 hearing with American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, we learned that she has your direct phone number. This is particularly interesting because of some of the nearly verbatim language and additions to the CDC’s school guidance that you took from the American Federation of Teachers.
Rep. Lesko: “Does Ms. Weingarten have your official or personal cell phone numbers or both?”
Director Walensky: “I believe she has both.”
Rep. Lesko: “Have you ever exchanged text messages with Ms. Weingarten?”
Director Walensky: “I have.”
Rep. Lesko: “Were these texts on your official or personal phones or both?”
Director Walensky: “I would have to go back and check. It may be both.”
Rep. John Joyce (R-Pa.) slammed Director Walensky’s inconsistent and confusing COVID-19 messaging that led to increased distrust in America’s public health authority.
Rep Joyce: “The CDC is the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven service organization that’s mission is to protect public health. Yet during the pandemic, there was continuously a countrywide perception of the shift about the nature and the risks of COVID. This is underscored by those inconsistencies in messaging and unfortunately, in your messaging — including a CDC spokesperson who had to walk back comments that you yourself made on television. In fact, it could be said that these inconsistencies led to the findings of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, where, again, I’m quoting, 57% of U.S. adults say false and misleading information about the coronavirus and vaccines has contributed to the problems that the country has faced dealing with the corona outbreak.”
Rep. Ronny Jackson, M.D. (R-Texas) grilled Director Walensky on her contradictory statements about vaccines and pressed her to explain any political interference in the CDC’s science-based guidance.
Rep. Jackson: “I don’t disagree with your initial statement — the tweet that was sent out. What I disagree with is the later statement that only the unvaccinated are dying from this. At the time, this is a year into it, this was July of 2021 when you made this statement about the pandemic of the unvaccinated. We knew at that point, to be true what you stated earlier, that the vaccine was not as effective as it was before. And even if that applied initially, it no longer applied at that point that far in. So what I’d like to know is did political pressure ever impact your CDC guidance on your public statements about COVID-19? Did you ever feel like you were making statements based on political pressure rather than the science that was available?
Director Walensky: “I run a science-based agency. I’m a scientist, and the statements that I made are defended by the science.”
Rep. Rich McCormick, M.D. (R-Ga.) highlighted the importance of following the science and avoiding political interference in times of national crisis — something the CDC failed to do during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. McCormick:“I think the biggest problem, I’m going to ask you if you think this is the biggest problem, the biggest problem with all the misinformation, with all this is the fact that we had black liberals and white conservatives both mistrusting this disease by not doing the right thing, a lot of times not following the science, because both sides were politicized so bad that nobody could figure out what the truth was anymore because it was politicized, we couldn’t get to the truth. Would you agree that is one of the biggest problems we had with this disease?”
Director Walensky: “I do think that when politics have become involved in what we are trying to frame, what should be framed as a medical health measure, we get mis and disinformation.”