The White House has ordered officials on the White House coronavirus task force to seek permission from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before accepting Congress’ request for testimony, a senior administration official confirmed to TPM via email on Tuesday.
Per a White House memo to task force leaders obtained by the Washington Post, officials are prohibited from testifying without Meadows’ “express approval.”
The White House has also limited the number of hearings on COVID-19 that officials at the Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State Departments may attend this month to four.
The restrictions are to ensure that the officials’ energy is focused on defeating the virus, according to the memo.
“Given these competing demands in these unprecedented times, it is reasonable to expect that agencies will have to decline invitations to hearings to remain focused on implementing of COVID-19 response, including declining to participate in multiple hearings on the same or overlapping topics,” the White House told the task force officials.
The senior administration official who confirmed the guidelines to TPM brushed off concerns about transparency “given the continual press briefings and agency-led briefings with committees.”
“But we need to make sure the Task Force members have the time they need to focus on the task at hand, not on preparing for four-hour hearings several times a week,” the official said.
The stated rationale echoes the White House’s explanation for not allowing Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the task force, to testify in front of a House subcommittee led by Democrats last Wednesday.
“While the Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counterproductive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at congressional hearings,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said in an emailed statement to TPM last week.
However, Meadows has permitted Fauci and others to testify in front of the GOP-controlled Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next week on Tuesday.