Walensky faces COVID-19 panel for final time as CDC director

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Rochelle Walensky, the outgoing director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified before the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic on Tuesday in a retrospective discussion touching on the federal government’s failures and successes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In what may likely be her final appearance before Congress before she leaves at the end of this month, Walensky was greeted with a somewhat more cordial line of questioning from Republican lawmakers on the committee, who sought to place more blame on the White House than on the CDC director for the policy failures they perceived during the pandemic.

As could be expected from an outgoing administration official, Walensky appeared to be more relaxed in front of the panel, with Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) noting that the hearing was a good opportunity to speak in a less “constrained” manner than she had previously.

“I leave later this month with a great sense of accomplishment that the public health emergency has ended and with an unwavering respect and admiration for the dedicated people across CDC working everyday to protect the health of Americans,” Walensky said in her opening remarks.

When asked directly by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) what she planned to do once she left the CDC, Walensky replied, “I don’t have plans after I step down.”

Committee chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), one of several physicians on the panel, found some common ground with the outgoing director, with both officials agreeing that comprehensive data on the pandemic is needed.

Wenstrup focused much of his criticisms on President Biden, suggesting in his opening remarks that the White House had attempted to block Walensky from testifying on Tuesday. He also blasted the definitive remarks Biden made during the pandemic, such as when he said, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations” in 2021.

Walensky acknowledged that it is common practice in medicine to “never say never.”

“To say something so definitive. ‘You’re not going to be hospitalized.’ Even in the trials people were hospitalized,” Wenstrup said.

“That was misinformation, that was divisive, that was dangerous and it put you in a very hard spot. It put you in a very hard spot as you are to be the leading voice for America” he said to Walensky. “And I applaud so many of the things that you have done and did do, but this is a problem and that’s the point I’m trying to make.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) similarly focused more of his criticisms onto the White House, suggesting that Walensky had to “hedge a little bit” when it came to the definitive nature of the recommendations coming from the Oval Office compared to the more generalized remarks that she made.

Walensky did not directly push back when the GOP members of the committee suggested the White House had contradicted her to some degree, referring those questions to the White House itself.

Democrats on the committee in turn pivoted many of the policy failures during the pandemic onto the previous administration.

“President Trump and his allies not only spread medical disinformation about quack medical cures like hydroxychloroquine and injecting yourself with bleach, but they lied to the American people very explicitly for their own political benefit,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said.

One of the main points of contention that GOP members of the panel brought against Walensky directly was a concern that Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), had undue access and influence over CDC’s guidance regarding school reopenings and closings.

Walensky pushed back on some of the accusations that she had allowed disproportionate access from Weingarten, noting the CDC did not accept all of the recommendations that came from AFT. The CDC director acknowledged, however, that Weingarten had both her professional and personal phone numbers and they did text each other.

When Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) questioned Walensky on which lines Weingarten contacted her through and what they discussed, Walensky said she would have to reference her records and testified she had not deleted any of the texts.

Throughout the hearing, Walensky highlighted a few key areas that the U.S. must improve on in order to prepare for future pandemics. She stressed the need for a national infrastructure to distribute vaccines to adults and called for faster access to information, referencing the fact that the CDC still relied on fax machines when she was appointed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.