Hearing on coronavirus ends abruptly as White House tells experts to come to 'emergency meeting'
On Wednesday morning, medical experts, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, were testifying before the House Oversight Committee on what to expect from the coronavirus epidemic in the United States. According to Fauci, “The bottom line: It is going to get worse.” Again and again, the information provided in the hearing completely contradicted the rosy statements that have been coming from Donald Trump and other White House officials and warned of a dire situation ahead.
But before the House could learn too many details, the hearing ended in an abrupt and astounding manner, as the witnesses simply got up and left. At 11:30 ET, Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney was told that the witnesses had to depart. In an attempt to explain what was happening, Fauci said they were going to an “emergency meeting” at the White House. Then, to add extra confusion, the White House immediately claimed that the meeting was not an emergency … it was just something that Fauci and Redfield didn’t know about and that was so urgent that they had to leave in the middle of congressional testimony.
On Tuesday, Trump appeared before the nation and assured everyone, "It will go away, just stay calm." But before his testimony was cut off, Dr. Fauci made a number of statements that were exactly counter to everything that Trump, Mike Pence, and the whole galaxy of Fox News surrogates have been trying to pass off on the nation.
Among other things, Fauci said that the coronavirus is “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu" and that there was no evidence that any vaccine would be available in the next few months. Despite being told both these facts, Trump has continued to contradict them at press events, downplaying the lethality of the coronavirus and indicating that a vaccine will be available soon—even when contradicted by officials sitting at the same table. And both White House officials and other right-wing sources continue to dismiss the coronavirus as “regular old flu.”
Also at the hearing, Redfield—usually a reliable Trump sycophant—admitted that some recent cases that had been written off as deaths due to flu were likely cases of the coronavirus. This would confirm a story carried by The New York Times reporting that Washington state officials sought to test flu victims for possible coronavirus back in January, only to be turned down by Redfield’s agency. This admission shows that the coronavirus has been circulating in the U.S. population for weeks, and underscores again that even the soaring number of cases now being racked up each day is really a signal not of limited disease, but of limited testing.
In the midst of this testimony, which had been expected to continue for some hours, came word that the witnesses were being called away for a meeting. After Fauci described it as an “emergency meeting,” another official jumped in to say that the meeting was actually “previously scheduled.” Fauci appeared to be in absolute confusion about what was going on, saying that there was a coronavirus task force meeting scheduled, but that it was at 3:30 PM ET.
As the witnesses were leaving the hearing, House members, including Maloney, tried to squeeze in a few last questions, making it clear that the public needed the information and insisting that witnesses had to complete their testimony. Fauci said he would try to return at 2 PM, but since the end of the hearing, another meeting has been scheduled at 2.
In the hearing, Fauci claimed that he had never been stifled in his statements to the public. But whether he will continue to appear as part of Trump’s coronavirus task force seemed decidedly in doubt as he left the hearing chamber.
Apparently, at some point earlier in the morning, Chairwoman Maloney was told that the meeting would end at 11:45 because Fauci and Redfield were needed back at the White House. However, Fauci did not seem to know this.