Ousted U.S. Health Official Rick Bright Testifies to House Panel Over Coronavirus Response

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Watch as whistleblower Immunologist Dr. Rick Bright appears before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, May 14. Bright was removed from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority after sounding the alarm about the pandemic -- in his words -- America faces the "darkest winter in modern history."

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Republicans accused Democrats on Wednesday of using a new House select subcommittee created to monitor coronavirus relief spending as a platform to attack President Donald Trump, immediately seizing on remarks from the opening witness at the panel’s first hearing.

The complaints by the panel’s top Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio made for a rocky start for the panel, as its members met through teleconferencing to hear experts talk about reopening the nation’s economy safely.

More partisan acrimony is expected Thursday when Rick Bright, who was ousted last month as head of the agency helping fund development of vaccines and treatments for the new coronavirus, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health panel. That subcommittee is examining the scientific integrity of the federal Covid-19 response.

Bright will tell the panel that the government’s “window of opportunity” to control the virus is closing, according to his prepared testimony.

“If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” Bright wrote.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Jordan took exception to testimony from Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Harvard University.

“It is political. It is a committee designed to go after this president,” Jordan said. “The very first witness just a few minutes ago said it was inadequate testing that initiated the shutdown. I thought the shutdown was initiated to bend the curve so our health care system was not overwhelmed.”

Jha disputed Jordan’s characterization that his remarks were motivated by politics.

“They were not. Every expert on the left, right, and center agrees that we had to shut our economy down because the outbreak got too big because we didn’t have a testing infrastructure that allowed us to put our arms around the outbreak. And so testing was the fundamental failure that forced our country to shut down,” he said.

Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland described the Republican complaints about the committee as an effort at “distraction.” Beyond party posturing, the hearing provided few actual breakthroughs in the information.

Others testifying included former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, and Mark McClellan, a former FDA commissioner and former administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, authors of a report released in late March by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, “National Coronavirus Response: A Road Map to Reopening.”

Gottlieb, who served as head of the FDA under Trump until April 2019, told the panel that, “We’re seeing some states that are reopening that are not seeing a spike in cases.” He said hospitalization data in Georgia, for instance, has not yet shown an increase in cases.

Scalise seized on Gottlieb’s remarks and comments on Georgia, saying Americans are watching others states and “states are already doing this and showing how you can have physical health and economic health.”

Gottlieb said that “people rightly want to know when this will be over.” He added, however, that the reality is that there will be “a new normal” even when more people go back to work. Better testing, tracing and better data collection are keys, he said.

“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” said Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Scalise also said during the hearing that the committee should “focus on holding China accountable,” echoing a letter he and other panel Republicans earlier Wednesday sent to the panel’s Democratic chairman, Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.

But Clyburn brushed that aside, saying that other congressional panels and outside commissions were looking at how the virus started and who was responsible.

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