The White House this week blocked all members of the coronavirus task force from testifying to Congress without the express permission of President Donald Trump's new chief of staff.
The White House told congressional committees that no task force member can accept an invitation to testify without approval from chief of staff Mark Meadows after it blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the country, from testifying before a House committee, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.
The memo also limits the number of hearings officials at government agencies can attend, arguing that the "demands on agencies' staff and resources are extraordinary in this current crisis."
"Agencies must maximize their resources for COVID-19 response efforts and treat hearing requests accordingly," the memo said. "Given these competing demands in these unprecedented times, it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused on implementing of COVID-19 response, including declining to participate in multiple hearings on the same or overlapping topics."
The memo came after the House Appropriations Committee reported that the White House blocked Fauci from before a House subcommittee. It allowed him to testify before a Republican-led Senate committee in May.
White House spokesman Judd Deere claimed that "it is counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later told reporters that the Trump administration wanted to make sure that the "subject matter of the hearing matched the individual they're requesting," and in this case, "there was never any clarity given forth as to what the actual subject matter of this hearing would be."
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly broken with Trump's talking points. He has pushed back on Trump's claim that the coronavirus may have originated in a lab in China, criticized states rushing to reopen, and urged caution when Trump hyped the unproven malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential virus cure.
Trump on Tuesday admitted that the White House had blocked Fauci's testimony to the lower chamber — and not the Senate — because "the House is a bunch of Trump haters."
"The House is a setup," he told reporters, claiming that Democrats want him to fail.
Democratic leaders slammed the move, accusing the president of silencing medical experts.
"President Trump should learn that by muzzling science and the truth, it will only prolong this health and economic crisis," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. "The president's failure to accept the truth and then his desire to hide it, is one of the chief reasons we are lagging behind so many other countries in beating this scourge."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected the White House's argument.
"The fact that they said, 'We're too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol' is, well, business as usual for them," she told CNN.
A Washington Post analysis found that despite the supposed time crunch, the White House had Fauci participate in a series of March and April briefings where he spent 40 hours not talking.
"The fact is that we need to allocate resources for this. In order to do that, any appropriations bill must begin in the House," Pelosi said. "And we have to have the information to act upon."
"We must insist on the truth," she added. "And they might be afraid of the truth."