Opinion: Congress needs to take a hard look at what went on at Trump's White House during the pandemic
Masks are coming off, restaurants are filling up again indoors, and the US is, by all accounts, returning to some sort of normal-ish state.
But as the Covid-19 death toll slowly ticks up to the 600,000 mark, there’s a growing consensus that at least some of those lives could’ve been saved. Where and how the past administration went wrong is easy to diagnose as an armchair expert, but Congress needs to begin what will likely be a gargantuan and long process of actually sifting through the data, internal emails and decision making to see what exactly happened and what needs to be corrected moving forward.
With the help of the Freedom of Information Act, the public can now see a tiny glimpse of what some of the top health officials in the Trump administration were doing at the height of the pandemic, and it isn’t pretty.
First and foremost, the emails show how former FDA commissioner Steve Hahn lied to the public when he apologized for misspeaking during a press conference about how convalescent plasma would increase survival. He didn’t misspeak, his email shows he was planning to note the 35% overall increase in survival all along.
And rather than offering support for what must’ve been a grueling several months at the beginning of 2020 for those top advisors like Deborah Birx and Hahn, senior Trump appointees like Hope Hicks and Joe Grogan were instead pushing their own agendas, seeking favors and making personal appeals and demands — often times for drugs like hydroxychloroquine, which proved to be completely ineffective.
And why was Katie Miller, the former communications director for Vice President Mike Pence with no public health or medical experience, telling Hahn what to look into therapeutic-wise in April 2020?
Emails from a month prior to the Miller demand also show how celebrities with access to the top officials (like Dr. Oz and Laura Ingraham) were not only granted an audience but also making demands on how to run trials for hydroxychloroquine.
And this is just the tiniest sliver of the iceberg that Congress needs to look into and release publicly, not only for those who died of Covid-19 and their families, but for the next administration that has to deal with a similarly massive, time-sensitive issue like this.
Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be wasted on what celebrities think, particularly during a pandemic.
Aaron Kesselheim, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, put it best when he told me recently, “I was most horrified by the attempts by members of the Trump administration/Congress and celebrities to get favors or make personal appeals to the FDA Commissioner, and to see such minor, useless stuff be elevated up to the highest levels of the FDA.
“If communications like this were more routinely made publicly available, then maybe such folks would feel less entitled to make them, and all of the people who rely on the FDA would better trust that certain decisions were being made on scientific terms rather than political (or Dr. Oz’s!) interference,” he added.