WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans took their first crack at Biden administration officials over their response to the Covid pandemic during a hearing Wednesday as part of a wider push to use their new power in Washington to probe everything from the actions of the FBI to the business dealings of the president’s son.
At the hearing, Republicans accused top Biden administration officials of using faulty science and poor judgement to mandate vaccinations for federal workers and recommend mask usage, particularly for children, something they said has broken public trust in health officials.
“Many will say that the American people deserve an apology, but they deserve much more,” said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I think about every person who lost a loved one to Covid-19. The people who died alone because of Covid-19 policies. The frontline workers who sacrificed but were still forced out of their jobs because of vaccine mandates and the children isolated and sent home from school closures.”
The hearing is expected to be the first of many by House Republicans around the pandemic response as well as the origins of the Covid virus. A separate committee also plans to investigate how hundreds of billions of dollars in Covid relief funds were lost to fraud during both the Trump and Biden administrations.
The committee members questioned Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Robert Califf and Lawrence A. Tabak, the senior official performing the duties of the director of the National Institutes of Health.
Since the start of Biden’s presidency, Republicans have been at odds with the administration over its response, accusing officials of overstepping the federal government’s boundaries around vaccine requirements, questioning the science around mask recommendations and challenging the need for federal funding for future vaccines and tests.
Members are also pursuing investigations into the origins of the virus. A letter sent to the National Institutes of Health earlier this month asked for a range of documents related to the monitoring of biosafety and research practices at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where Republicans have speculated the virus may originated from.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., accused the NIH of stonewalling Congress in its efforts to uncover the origins of the virus during the hearing Wednesday.
Biden asked intelligence officials in 2021 to redouble efforts to uncover the origins of the virus. In a report issued later that year, at least one U.S. intelligence agency concluded the Covid-19 virus could have emerged from a lab accident in Wuhan, China, but the U.S. intelligence community remains divided on the origins of the virus and the report said the agencies are unlikely to be able to provide a more definitive explanation without significant new information. The prevailing theory among scientists that the virus likely evolved in nature and jumped to people from an animal.During the hearings, Democrats sought to shift the focus to missteps made by the Trump administration, including a lack of personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic and misinformation about treatments.