May 18, 2020

Harris To Johnson: Committee Must Focus On COVID-19, Not Politics

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Monday sent a letter to Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, demanding a hearing with administration officials who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There has not been a hearing in the committee with any administration officials handling the coronavirus crisis in over two months, yet this Wednesday, Chairman Johnson has scheduled a committee markup to pursue partisan political matters. In March, Harris sent a letter to Johnson requesting he hold an oversight hearing for FEMA. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Harris has sent multiple letters to FEMA demanding answers for their plans to respond to the crisis.

“It has now been over two months since our committee’s last hearing with administration officials responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and two years since we have had an oversight hearing with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Rather than prioritize providing important oversight that will protect Americans from the unprecedented threat posed by this pandemic, you have continued to pursue partisan political matters—such as the markup scheduled for this Wednesday on the issuance of a subpoena—that do nothing to help the millions of constituents that we serve. This is a clear abdication of responsibility. That is why on March 16th I wrote you a letter requesting a hearing, and now nine weeks later, I am reiterating that request. It is imperative that we get a hearing on the schedule and that it is the first in a line of COVID-19 oversight hearings with administration officials,” Harris wrote.

She continued, “Since our last hearing with administration officials, the number of reported coronavirus cases in the United States has grown from about 200 cases to 1.5 million and the death count in this country has gone from the low double digits to almost 100,000. There is nothing more important for our committee to consider than this pandemic that is killing thousands of people in this country each week.”

“In the last eight weeks, I have sent six letters to FEMA in an effort to get answers about how the agency is coordinating the response to this crisis and have yet to receive a single response. In these letters, I have demanded answers on how the agency is making decisions about where to send scarce resources. I have requested detailed plans for responding to natural disasters during a pandemic. I have called on the agency to address its history of racial and socioeconomic disparities in disaster response. I have called for—and since reiterated my call for—national guidelines for an accurate and consistent COVID-19 death count. And I have asked for information on how FEMA is distributing COVID-19 treatments,” she concluded.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

May 18, 2020 

The Honorable Ron Johnson
Chairman
U.S. Senate Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committee
340 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

 

Dear Chairman Johnson:

It has now been over two months since our committee’s last hearing with administration officials responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and two years since we have had an oversight hearing with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Rather than prioritize providing important oversight that will protect Americans from the unprecedented threat posed by this pandemic, you have continued to pursue partisan political matters—such as the markup scheduled for this Wednesday on the issuance of a subpoena—that do nothing to help the millions of constituents that we serve. This is a clear abdication of responsibility. That is why on March 16th I wrote you a letter requesting a hearing, and now nine weeks later, I am reiterating that request. It is imperative that we get a hearing on the schedule and that it is the first in a line of COVID-19 oversight hearings with administration officials.

Since our last hearing with administration officials, the number of reported coronavirus cases in the United States has grown from about 200 cases to 1.5 million and the death count in this country has gone from the low double digits to almost 100,000. There is nothing more important for our committee to consider than this pandemic that is killing thousands of people in this country each week.

This crisis deserves our undivided attention and it is critical that we hear from the officials who are currently responsible for addressing this outbreak as soon as possible. Failing to convene a hearing with these individuals is a failure to preform our oversight function especially considering that a primary role of this committee is to provide oversight of FEMA, the agency tasked with coordinating our nation’s response to this global health crisis.

Congress has recognized the important role that it must play in our nation’s response to this economic and public health crisis and its eventual recovery. We have passed four coronavirus relief bills, providing nearly $3 trillion for our nation’s families, health care providers, small businesses, and state and local governments. While the passage of these pieces of legislation provided much needed relief to some, we have seen that is not nearly enough. Additionally, the rollout of these bills has been riddled with challenges and a lack of transparency.

For example, nurses, doctors, and other frontline workers are risking their lives every day to help others and keep our country running, yet have struggled to get the basic personal protective equipment (PPE) that they need; The one-time checks to families are insufficient and were delayed by weeks; Minority-owned small businesses have been virtually shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program; And we still do not have the testing capacity across the country to safely get America back to work.

It is our duty to the American people to understand what is going wrong and what is needed going forward in order to get through this crisis in the most efficient and productive way possible. In order to do this, we must hear from and question top administration officials. Any suggestion that this is not possible or not a priority for these officials at this time is unacceptable.

At our roundtable on May 6th, you indicated that you were having calls with FEMA Administrator Gaynor as the Chairman of this committee. It is my understanding that the content of those calls were not public. I have also had private conversations with Administrator Gaynor and other key administration officials and will continue to do so. However, there is no substitute for public hearings with witnesses under oath. As the committee designated with oversight, it is incumbent on us to conduct public hearings. This starts by hearing from Administrator Gaynor alongside other key administration officials handling the nation’s response to COVID-19, as soon as possible.

In the last eight weeks, I have sent six letters to FEMA in an effort to get answers about how the agency is coordinating the response to this crisis and have yet to receive a single response. In these letters, I have demanded answers on how the agency is making decisions about where to send scarce resources. I have requested detailed plans for responding to natural disasters during a pandemic. I have called on the agency to address its history of racial and socioeconomic disparities in disaster response. I have called for—and since reiterated my call for—national guidelines for an accurate and consistent COVID-19 death count. And I have asked for information on how FEMA is distributing COVID-19 treatments.

As the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, we have a responsibility to conduct oversight hearings with top administration officials, immediately. I hope that this request and my concerns will not continue to go ignored, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that we are upholding our duty to the millions of Americans who are relying on this committee to do its job.

Sincerely,       

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