The Biden administration is under mounting pressure to investigate the spiraling New York nursing home scandal as Democrats join Republicans in demanding answers on the Cuomo administration’s decision to withhold information on the novel coronavirus death toll.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican, urged President Biden not to protect Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid growing calls for federal and state probes into his handling of the pandemic after a top aide said Thursday that the fatality count was deliberately concealed.
“I want to see subpoena at both the state level — the state Senate and state Assembly should issue subpoenas immediately — and I want the Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation,” Ms. Stefanik said in a Monday interview on Fox News.
She continued: “It’s a disgrace, and President Biden needs to keep to his promise that the Department of Justice will be independent from political pressure from Gov. Cuomo, who is a Democrat.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise agreed, tweeting, “The Justice Department must pursue a FULL investigation into Cuomo‘s deadly nursing home order and the massive cover up by his administration.”
The eight-member New York Republican congressional delegation called Friday on acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to take action after the disclosure by Cuomo secretary Melissa DeRosa that the governor’s office “froze” and delayed for months releasing nursing home death figures over worries that the data would “be used against us.”
“We were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice, or what we give to you guys, what we start saying, was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” Ms. DeRosa said in a partial transcript released Friday.
Her admission, which came during a Thursday call with Democratic state legislators and was first reported by the New York Post, has also prompted an erosion of Mr. Cuomo‘s Democratic support.
Fourteen Democratic state senators joined Republicans in calling for Mr. Cuomo’s emergency pandemic powers to be revoked. Democratic state Rep. Antonio Delgado said Sunday he wanted a “full investigation,” while New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams pushed for federal action.
“Many months ago, I joined Borough President Eric Adams and a coalition of elected officials from across the country in calling for a Department of Justice investigation of city and state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic—because justice must be pursued, regardless of party,” said the Democrat Williams in a Friday statement.
“I repeat that call now, under a new federal administration but out of the same moral obligation and with renewed moral outrage at the arrogance the Governor continues to show in making dangerous, misguided decisions and refusing to face the consequences,” he said.
Coincidentally, Mr. Biden met Friday with Mr. Cuomo and others, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, about the state pandemic response, but White House press secretary Jen Psaki said their discussion should not be viewed as a “stamp of approval.”
“The president hosted Gov. Cuomo and a bipartisan group of governors and mayors to the White House today to get their perspective from the frontlines, not to give anyone a stamp of approval or to seek their stamp of approval, and to discuss the urgency of passing the American Rescue Plan,” Ms. Psaki said.
Her comment came in response to a question about the governor’s office withholding information about nursing home fatalities.
“Gov. Cuomo is, of course, the governor of one of the largest states in the country, one of the places where the pandemic hit hardest, the earliest,” said Ms. Psaki, adding, “And so it was important to have him as a part of the meeting.”
Ms. DeRosa sought Friday to clarify her comments, saying that the Cuomo administration had delayed its reply to state legislators about nursing home deaths to respond to a Justice Department inquiry last year.
“I was explaining that when we received the DOJ inquiry, we needed to temporarily set aside the Legislature’s request to deal with the federal request first,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “We informed the houses of this at the time. We were comprehensive and transparent in our responses to the DOJ.”
Even so, the New York Republican Party called Friday for Mr. Cuomo to be prosecuted and impeached over “what clearly amounts to federal obstruction of justice,” while others, including GOP Reps. Claudia Tenney and Nicole Malliotakis, said he should resign.
“The second most powerful person in state government and top aide to Governor Cuomo admitted on video to the premeditated and willful violation of state laws and what clearly amounts to federal obstruction of justice,” said the state GOP. “Andrew Cuomo has abused his power and destroyed the trust placed in the office of governor. Prosecution and impeachment discussions must begin right away.”
Mr. Cuomo was already on the hot seat after New York Attorney General Letitia James concluded in a Jan. 28 report that the state had undercounted COVID-19 fatalities in nursing homes by as much as 50%, a probe that found the previously cited figure of 8,500 deaths was closer to 15,000.
More than 9,000 recovering patients were released into nursing homes under a March 25 directive from Mr. Cuomo, according to the Associated Press, an order that was replaced on May 10. The original order can be found on the Wayback Machine website.
“No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19,” said the March 25 order. “NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”
Ms. Stefanik warned that a lack of federal action on the Cuomo nursing home response would come back to haunt the White House.
“If there is no Department of Justice investigation into the Secretary to Governor Cuomo‘s public admission of federal crimes,” she said in a Friday statement, “a stain will remain on the entirety of the Biden Administration.”