WASHINGTON — Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) opened today’s hearing titled “Oversight of CDC Policies and Decisions During the COVID-19 Pandemic” by noting that America’s public health authorities — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — caused significant damage during the pandemic with unscientific policies and confusing guidance. After months of stonewalling by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Chairman explained that a subpoena threat was used to compel the Biden Administration to allow CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to testify today. Chairman Wenstrup also detailed Director Walensky’s extensive history of contradictory statements that led to further confusion among Americans and sparked questions of political interference at the CDC. In his opening statement, Chairman Wenstrup also highlights the importance of investigating these policy failures and emphasizes the need for honest, transparent answers from federal agencies to better prepare America to address a future pandemic.
Below are Select Subcommittee Chairman Wenstrup’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
Today the Select Subcommittee is holding a hearing to examine the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s policies and decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic sent shockwaves through all aspects of American life – school, work, family, sports, and faith.
This was a novel virus. We didn’t know everything. And we didn’t know how to react. Educated guesses were the best we could do in some cases.
But throughout, I maintained hope.
What should have and could have, united our country, but instead, we drove division.
I was hopeful that the pandemic could be a unifying force for our country and for the world.
After all, “a common danger unites even the bitterest enemies.”
Unfortunately, in many ways, our public health leadership did not rise to the occasion.
Instead of being a calm and trusted voice of science and reason, the American people felt let down, often deceived and left damaged.
Director Walensky, given how difficult it was to get you here today, with HHS often negotiating on your behalf, it appears that maybe the Biden Administration did not want you to speak regarding these topics.
In case you were unaware, nearly 10 weeks ago, on April 5th, the Select Subcommittee requested that the CDC make you available to testify today.
On May 22, the Select Subcommittee officially invited you to testify.
Throughout the negotiation process, the Biden Administration said there was insufficient time for you to prepare.
This may even astonish you considering the Select Subcommittee provided nearly 10 weeks’ notice.
HHS then rejected two other, later dates and provided more seemingly illogical excuses.
Again, in case you were unaware, it took the threat of a subpoena for the Biden Administration to finally allow you to attend this hearing.
We think that maybe you were willing the whole time. So, we thank you for being here today.
It is, however, curious that the Biden Administration tried so hard to hide you from the American people.
I suppose that some would rather the American people simply move on.
But without review of process and decision making, it’s difficult to plan for the future.
It is the duty of this Select Subcommittee to ensure that we address failings, so we are not doomed to repeat them.
As well, let’s affirm the positives. These are our duties and our obligations.
Throughout the pandemic, CDC published confusing guidance and made divisive and confusing statements. We must talk about these things.
Director Walensky, you, made several of these statements yourself, some that even contradicted CDC’s official guidance.
We have many questions about some of the statements made by several people and directives and facts that were contradictory.
Beginning with, on February 3rd, 2021, you said “…there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated…”
The next day, then White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Dr. Walensky spoke to this in her personal capacity”
You were speaking at a White House press briefing when you made that statement. The official CDC logo was behind you. And the transcript is on the White House website.
Doesn’t sound like personal capacity to me. Seems like the Biden Administration just disagreed with what you were saying. We will ask you about that.
On March 29, 2021, Director Walensky said: “our data from the CDC today suggests…that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick…”
Three days later, a CDC spokesman walked this back and said that you were speaking broadly and that some people who are fully vaccinated might catch COVID-19.
This raises the question of whether the science supported what you were publicly saying.
The lack of scientific awareness of the Biden Administration became clear, when on July 21, 2021, President Biden made the unequivocal statement: “if you are vaccinated, you are not going to be hospitalized, you are not going to be in the Intensive Care unit, and you are not going to die.”
We will ask you about that and are interested in hearing if the data CDC had at the time supported that statement or if it was made for political purposes.
At times, CDC seemingly accepted guidance from political organizations, instead of relying on the real time scientific data.
At our hearing in April with the American Federation of Teachers’ President, Randi Weingarten, we examined its interactions with the CDC.
Dr. Henry Walke, a scientist at the CDC, described AFT’s level of access as “uncommon.”
Ms. Weingarten testified, to having your direct phone number.
And provided the CDC with line-by-line edits.
And received an advance copy of the full internal draft guidance.
And some of her edits were even accepted.
This level of access is uncommon.
The AFT even suggested adding a closure trigger to automatically shut schools down.
Even though this specific edit was not accepted, the others that were have had severe consequences.
I believe it is appropriate for the AFT to seek CDC guidance, but not to give you or the CDC medical and scientific advice.
Drug use, violence, mental health issues, and suicide among our nation’s children have skyrocketed, while test scores have severely fallen.
Some will attempt to undermine this Select Subcommittee’s efforts by saying that “hindsight is 20/20” or that we are “playing Monday morning quarterback.”
Our role is to investigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
This requires looking back to plan ahead.
It requires asking questions to evaluate how decisions were made and implemented.
And once that is done, we may put forth solutions based on facts not suppositions.
I look forward to a strong, respectful, and on topic, discussion.
Honestly is non-negotiable.
Again, I thank you for being here today voluntarily and look forward to your testimony.