Fauci testifies before Senate about coronavirus response

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, addresses a briefing on the latest information about the Coronavirus. (Photo: Andrea Hanks / The White House)

WASHINGTON (CBS News) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, is testifying before a Senate committee Tuesday, his first appearance before Congress since March. Fauci is appearing remotely at the 10 a.m. hearing with Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other officials to discuss reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci told CBS News that he will warn the country of the risks of reopening the economy too soon. He also plans to make the point — as a health professional — that there are a lot of things that people can do to get back to normal if they follow federal guidelines, and that the country must have the capability to prevent full blown outbreaks if there is another spike.

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Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, announced Sunday that the committee hearing would take place over video conference.

“After consulting with Dr. Fauci, and in an abundance of caution for our witnesses, senators, and the staff, all four Administration witnesses will appear by videoconference due to these unusual circumstances,” Alexander said in a statement. Alexander is also appearing at the hearing remotely, as he entered into self-quarantine after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir are also appearing at the virtual hearing. Fauci is head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Fauci is testifying despite going into “modified quarantine” following exposure to a White House staffer who tested positive for the virus. Over the weekend, Fauci told CBS News he is “low risk” based on the type of exposure he had to the staffer and is quarantining out of an abundance of caution. However, on Monday Fauci was at the White House, telling CBS News he is essential personnel and wore a mask while socially distancing.

His testimony before the Senate comes after the Trump administration blocked him from appearing before a House committee to discuss spending on coronavirus testing. President Trump told reporters last week that he doesn’t want officials appearing before House Democrats, who hold the majority.

“The House is a setup,” Mr. Trump said. “The House is a bunch of Trump haters.”

The White House Office of Legislative Affairs sent a memo to all House and Senate committee staff directors last week that bars all members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force from appearing before a congressional committee without the permission of chief of staff Mark Meadows.

“For primary response departments, including HHS, DHS, and State, in order to preserve department-wide resources, no more than one COVID-related hearing should be agreed to with the department’s primary House and Senate authorizing committee and appropriations subcommittee in the month of May, for a total of no more than four COVID-related hearings department-wide,” the memo said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier this month that Fauci would not testify before the House Appropriations Committee because Meadows was told the hearing would be about funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which she said would be a “rather odd fit” for Fauci, who works for the National Institutes of Health. She argued that it was “farcical” to say Fauci was blocked from testifying.

Fauci’s testimony comes as several states begin to ease coronavirus-related restrictions, although health experts remain concerned about a second wave of the coronavirus. The economic fallout from the pandemic has been devastating, with the unemployment rate rising to 14.7% in April, the highest level since the Great Depression.