Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested the Trump administration “might be afraid of truth” after the White House barred members of its Coronavirus Task Force from testifying before the House this month.
A recent White House memo ordered task force members and their key deputies not to accept invitations from the House to testify about the coronavirus crisis “during the month of May” so they can focus on responding to the pandemic.
Ms Pelosi criticised that order during CNN interview on Monday, saying: ”The fact is that we need to allocate resources for this [crisis]. In order to do that, any appropriations bill must begin in the House, and we have to have the information to act upon.”
The task force includes vice-president Mike Pence, infectious disease experts Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx and Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin among others.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, a former House member himself, has said the administration could make exceptions to its rule.
Ms Pelosi dismissed the White House’s explanation that the task force was too busy to prepare for hearings.
“I was hoping they would spend more time on the crisis instead of those daily shows that the president put on,” she said, referring to the task force’s daily briefings, which Democrats say effectively doubled as campaign rallies for Mr Trump.
The president often spent close to an hour at the briefings touting his accomplishments, putting down his political rivals, and making tenuous predictions about Covid-19 while other members of the task force sat or stood next to him in silence.
“The fact that they say, ‘We are too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol’ is, well, business as usual for them. But it is not business that will be helpful to addressing this,” Ms Pelosi said.
Mr Trump indicated on Tuesday he would let task force members, including Mr Fauci, testify before the Republican-controlled Senate. But the Democratic-controlled House, which he characterised as “a bunch of Trump haters,” was still a no go.
“The House is a set up. The House is a bunch of Trump haters,” he said. “They, frankly, want our situation to be unsuccessful, which means death.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has criticised Republicans for not holding any public hearings this week with any members of the task force.
The White House coronavirus press briefings are not enough, the Democrat said.
“We need have intense hearings where they’re asked question after question. You know, at the White House, a reporter asks a good question and the president just belittles him and shuts up the people up behind him. We cannot have that. There’s too much at stake,” the minority leader said in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Mr Fauci has broken ranks with Mr Trump and secretary of state Mike Pompeo over their promotion of the conspiracy theory that coronavirus – which has killed nearly 70,000 Americans – was created in a Chinese lab.
“If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated, he told National Geographic. “Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.”