Durbin, Duckworth Call On Republicans To Stand For Science And Support Bill To Stop Political Interference In COVID-19 Response

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and 30 of their Senate Democratic colleagues to introduce 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.

“The American people must have confidence that treatments, vaccines, and public health guidance on COVID-19 has been approved using the best science from our public health experts, not political appointees. Sadly, the Trump Administration’s repeated instances of political interference has sowed doubt in the minds of many Illinoisans and threatens our nation’s response to this deadly pandemic. Too much is at stake for America to get this wrong, which is why I joined Senator Duckworth and our Democratic colleagues to introduce a bill that would hold the Administration accountable for decisions that weighed the best politics rather than the best public health and science,” Durbin said.

“As we mourn the loss of 200,000 Americans this week from COVID-19, we’re reminded that the Trump Administration’s failure to follow the science and guidance from medical experts put us here,” Duckworth said. “Science, not politics, should be leading our country’s pandemic response, but instead Donald Trump is continuing to lie to Americans about the seriousness of this crisis—just this week saying the virus affects ‘virtually nobody.’ I’m proud to join Senator Durbin and Senate Democrats to introduce the STOP Act to help ensure the politics of the Trump Administration don’t continue to interfere with our pandemic response.”

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, 18: The New York Times and Washington Post report further on how Trump Administration political appointees tried to silence Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts.
  • 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 is cosponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY),  Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ed Markey (D-MA),  Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jack Rosen (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Full text of the Science and Transparency Over Politics Act is available HERE.