WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (Both D-Md.), with Democratic Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and 30 of their Senate Democratic colleagues Tuesday 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.
“It is incomprehensible that as more Americans die from coronavirus, the more the Trump administration flagrantly undermines the science and medical research that will save lives,” said Senator Cardin. “We must ensure that the decision to approve a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is not politicized and that the U.S. maintains high scientific standards in their development. Transparency and independent oversight are essential in earning Americans’ trust in the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic response.”
“Time and time again, this Administration has been caught interfering with and undermining scientific evidence for their own political gain. As our country hits the grim mark of over 200,000 Americans dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, the President continues to care more about his own personal interests than the health and safety of the American people. Our response to this crisis must be guided by science, not politics. That’s why I’m urging my Republican colleagues to step up and pass this bill immediately,” said Senator Van Hollen.
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, 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.
The legislation also is cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jack Rosen (D-Nev.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
See full text of the Science and Transparency Over Politics Act HERE.