- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A handful of partisan squabbles broke out at the House’s select coronavirus hearing Wednesday as lawmakers probed public health officials on steps needed to reopen the country during the pandemic.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, serving as the ranking member, opened by criticized the panel for holding its first hearing virtually rather than returning to Capitol Hill.

“A virtual briefing sends the wrong message,” said Mr. Scalise, Louisiana Republican.

He and a handful of other Republicans returned to Washington, D.C. and participated in the virtual hearing from inside one of the committee rooms.

The committee got off to a bit of a tense start — Republicans objected to the panel’s creation, calling it unnecessary and partisan. The panel was only approved on a party-line vote.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio brought those concerns back up, noting that the first panelist — Dr. Ashish Jha — blamed the lockdown on an inadequate testing response to the initial outbreak.

“What’s the objective? You’ve got eight different entities currently looking at oversight of the of the CARES Act and the coronavirus crisis, but we needed this ninth, and I would argue this ninth is political. It’s a committee designed to go after the president,” Mr. Jordan said.

Dr. Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, defended his comments and said they were in no way intended to be partisan.

“Every expert on the left, right and center agrees that we had to shut our economy down because the outbreak got too big because we didn’t have a testing infrastructure that allowed us to put our arms around the outbreak and so testing was the fundamental failure that forced our country to shut down,” he said.

Later, Rep. Mark Green, Tennessee Republican and an ER physician, again raised the issue of partisanship and questioned if the “majority is really interested in the truth.”

He argued that the committee should be focused on China’s role in the pandemic and criticized the majority for pressing a handful of energy companies to return the small business loans they received.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat, dismissed the GOP complaints as “desperate efforts to distract from the crisis” intended to “plunge us into partisan conflicts.”

Despite the partisan bickering, lawmakers were able to get advice from the public health experts.

The panelists unanimously agreed that the country needs to bolster its capability to test for coronavirus quickly and effectively, contact-trace new cases and distribute personal protective equipment if it wants to keep the inevitable uptick of cases manageable as states reopen.

They argued that the federal government needs to be at the head of that effort by obtaining and coordinating the resources for state and local governments, who can then more effectively distribute that to fit individual needs.

“I do believe ultimately that states have to play a central role in testing a state’s know a lot about where to test how to test, but they cannot do it by themselves,” Dr. Jha said. “The states competing with each other in the marketplace — I believe in competition but this is not where competition is going to be useful. Also a lot of the supply chains are global.”

Lawmakers ended the hearing on a positive note — with calls for bipartisanship across the aisle.

“I hope we can work together in a bipartisan way. Remember, Mr. Ranking Member, I said to you … if the distance between me and you, on any issue, is five steps — I don’t mind taking three of them,” Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat and the committee chairman, said in closing.

“I’ll be happy to take the other two, Mr. Chairman. Looking forward to it,” Mr. Scalise replied.

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