May 20, 2020

Harris Calls Out Johnson for Neglecting “Biggest Crisis” Since Creation of Homeland Security Committee

Full Video of Harris’ Remarks 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday called out Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) Chairman Senator Ron Johnson for holding a political vote in the midst of a pandemic. In her remarks, Harris holds Johnson accountable for the failure of the committee to oversee vital government agencies who are in charge of the COVID-19 response. Harris stressed that the committee should be protecting the American people against this pandemic, not doing the president’s personal bidding.

Key Excerpts:

  • Based on recent numbers, we’ve seen every day that we fail to schedule an oversight hearing—Mr. Chairman, every day that you fail to schedule an oversight hearing—an average of at least 20,000 people in America will become infected because of this virus. And an average of at least 1,000 Americans will die each die from the virus.
  • This pandemic is the biggest crisis our country has faced since this committee was created. How the government responds to this crisis will define the future for the next generation. Yet, Mr. Chairman, you made the unilateral decision to convene this meeting on a matter wholly unrelated to the threat, the deadly threat, facing our constituents.
  • There are literally matters of life-and-death waiting for this committee’s attention. But instead this committee is doing the president’s personal bidding.

A full transcript of Harris’ remark can be found below:

Mr. Chairman, this committee has the responsibility, and dare I say the duty, to investigate threats against the homeland and watch over how federal government and our federal government is preparing to respond to them.

This clearly includes how government agencies are addressing COVID-19.

These agencies for which we have oversight jurisdiction and a duty of oversight include FEMA which is tasked to coordinate and lead the entire federal government’s response, including procuring testing materials, distributing PPE, and ensuring the public is receiving accurate information about the virus.

It also includes ICE, which is responsible for protecting the health and safety of those in its custody, a population that is especially vulnerable to infection by COVID-19.

Our oversight and duty of oversight includes the Office of Personnel Management, which is responsible for federal workers and their benefits, many of whom are on the frontlines and do not have the option to telework. 

Our oversight responsibilities include the United States Postal Service, which has become an even more vital resource during this time by ensuring that people have access to essential goods like medicine, toiletries, and voter ballots.  

It is this committee’s responsibility, and this committee alone, to determine how effective these agencies have been at fulfilling their responsibilities to the American people.

On February 12th of this year, Mr. Chairman, you convened a roundtable entitled “Are We Prepared? Protecting the U.S. from Global Pandemics.” At that time I asked you why we did not have even one current Administration official testifying. Why there was not even one current member of the Trump administration that was testifying so that we could have accurate and current information about the plan, if one exists, to protect the American people against this pandemic.

98 days later from that day, today, our country has 1,528,000 cases and 91,938 deaths. We are the world leader in confirmed cases and deaths. Our country makes up 4% of the world’s population and over 30% of the cases.

Based on recent numbers, we’ve seen every day that we fail to schedule an oversight hearing—Mr. Chairman, every day that you fail to schedule an oversight hearing—an average of at least 20,000 people in America will become infected because of this virus. And an average of at least 1,000 Americans will die each die from the virus.

Our committee must provide oversight because the American people, our constituents, deserve to know what’s going on.

They demand to know why there is still no national testing strategy for COVID-19.

They demand to have accurate and transparent death toll statistics based on expert methodology, free from political influence.

They demand to know if the Postal Service will be able to avoid bankruptcy and continue to deliver medicine to seniors through the duration of this pandemic.

They demand to know why more than 1,000 people in ICE custody have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least two have died.

They demand to know how the Office of Personnel Management, is protecting frontline workers.

They demand to know whether the Department of Health and Human Services has been able to ensure that testing and treatment is free for all Americans, including communities of color and the uninsured.

They demand to know why a disproportionate amount of deaths are happening in the African American community.

In fact in Milwaukee County, I know you know, Black people make up 27% of the population, but 52% of the deaths.

This pandemic is the biggest crisis our country has faced since this committee was created. How the government responds to this crisis will define the future for the next generation.

Yet, Mr. Chairman, you made the unilateral decision to convene this meeting on a matter wholly unrelated to the threat, the deadly threat, facing our constituents.

You made the decision to force a vote on a purely political matter that will do absolutely nothing for those at risk of contracting COVID-19.

The matter you want us to consider is to grant you additional legal authority to demand documents from a public relations firm that I understand is willing to give those documents to the Committee.  So this is not nearly as urgent as COVID-19 and our duty to perform oversight of the federal agencies that are supposed to be helping the American people.

And it is not helpful for the Homeland Security Committee to prioritize divisive political subpoenas, which will only sow further distrust among the American people and fuel skepticism about our democratic system of government.

Today’s agenda reveals a lot about the senate majority’s priorities, sadly.

There are literally matters of life-and-death waiting for this committee’s attention. But instead this committee is doing the president’s personal bidding.

Members of this Committee, I urge you to vote against this political sideshow so we can focus our attention on the pandemic that is threatening the lives and livelihoods of the American people. Thank you Mr. Chairman.

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