A Democrat-led House appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday heard testimony on the Trump administration’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic from former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, who avoided jail time last year after pleading guilty in a sex abuse case.
The House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies invited Dr. Frieden to serve as one of their star witnesses during the first congressional hearing addressing the federal response to the pandemic.
Dr. Frieden, who ran the CDC under former President Barack Obama’s administration, has been critical of how the Trump administration has handled the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chairwoman of the House subcommittee, seized the opportunity during the hearing to lambast Trump’s response to the coronavirus illness (COVID-19) plaguing the United States and the rest of the globe.
On June 4, Obama’s CDC chief pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation, an offense that is lower than a misdemeanor and is not considered a crime. It is a lesser offense than the original charges levied against the former Obama administration official.
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 4:
[New York] Judge Edwin Novillo sentenced Dr. Frieden to [a] conditional discharge. His case will be sealed and dismissed in a year if he isn’t arrested during that time.
After turning himself in to the New York Police Department in August last year, Dr. Frieden was charged with forcible touching, third-degree sexual abuse and second-degree harassment. The alleged victim told a detective that on October 20, 2017, in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, Dr. Frieden touched and squeezed her buttocks without her consent, according to a criminal complaint. The complaint, which didn’t name the victim, said she told the detective she was “alarmed and annoyed.”
Frieden has been critical of the White House’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On March 25, USA Today reported:
The United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic is haphazard, uncoordinated, and sorely missing the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that agency’s former director told USA TODAY on Tuesday.
And the “extraordinary” absence of the nation’s lead public health agency at the forefront of the coronavirus fight makes Tom Frieden feel “less safe.”
In an editorial published by the New York Times on April 12, Dr. Frieden, who now serves as the president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a global initiative that works with countries to prevent heart disease fatalities and combat epidemics, wrote:
The White House missed our first chance to limit the impact of Covid-19 in February by not expanding [the] production of protective equipment, ventilators, and testing. It also failed to communicate effectively, which would likely have accustomed and motivated Americans to practice physical distancing.
He conceded in his written testimony that it is easier to second-guess decisions made by the government when you are no longer part of it.
This is an unprecedented pandemic, and requires an unprecedented response. My testimony is forward-looking. At the appropriate time, we can assess what went well and what didn’t. I don’t work in government now, and I’m acutely aware that hindsight is 20/20, and it’s far too easy to second-guess decisions others have made. We’re just at the beginning of this pandemic, and we must focus on the future.
Until we have an effective vaccine, unless something unexpected happens, our viral enemy will be with us for many months or years. We need to do everything possible to make a vaccine but we can’t assume that we’ll have one.
In March, some health officials have predicted it may take 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine.
During the hearing, Chairwoman DeLauro blasted President Donald Trump’s reaction to the viral outbreak in the United States, proclaiming in her opening remarks:
I am angry that the White House mismanaged America’s reaction to the pandemic, and the President has done everything he could to avoid accountability. I am particularly upset about the lack of the necessary testing and Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] capacity. Both of which could help us to regain control.
Citing scientists and health experts around mid-April, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence insisted that America has “sufficient” testing capacity to begin reviving the ailing economy in the United States.
President Trump has also repeatedly asserted that the federal government had resolved dire PPE shortages.
However, Dr. Friden told the House panel, “There are not enough tests currently.”
Dr. Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who also testified, added that there are not enough PPEs.
“Many states are in the process of reopening, or are considering doing so, despite inadequate capacities to do diagnostic testing, contact tracing, and insufficient supplies of personal protective equipment,” she said in her written testimony.
Seemingly alluding to Johns Hopkins University’s principles for a phased reopening, she said none of the U.S. states had met all the criteria for restarting their economies.
While urging caution, Frieden conceded that Americans are eager to reopen and allow businesses to resume operations.
The White House has unveiled guidelines for restarting the economy and some states and localities have begun to reopen.