We already knew from an October 2020 Associated Press report that the flawed Title 42 public health order that’s used the novel coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to quickly deport asylum-seekers in violation of their rights was implemented under political pressure by the previous administration. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists “said there was no evidence the action would slow the coronavirus,” but were overruled by the White House, that report said.
Now we have that on the record. Among damning documents released by a House committee last week is a transcript of Congressional testimony by Anne Schuchat, who until earlier this year served as the agency’s principal deputy director. Her testimony confirms everything we read from the AP back last fall. “Do you believe that that order was necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. at that time, at this specific time, March 20, 2020?” she’s asked. “No,” Schuchat replies.
Schuchat’s testimony also confirms the previous administration’s political pressure on another top CDC official, Dr. Martin Cetron. The AP had reported that when Cetron refused to sign Title 42, the White House skipped over him and directly pressured former director Robert Redfield. He gave in. While Schuchat said during her testimony that she didn’t know exactly how the policy was instituted, she knew Cetron had refused to put his pen to paper.
“Dr. Cetron takes the regulatory authority for quarantine very seriously and weighs—you know, the typical issue is, the least restrictive means possible to protect public health is when you exert a quarantine order versus other measures. And the bulk of the evidence at that time did not support this policy proposal,” Schuchat said in testimony. She added that “his view was that the facts on the ground didn’t call for this from a public health reason.”
Schuchat said she didn’t know the thinking behind Redfield’s decision-making process, but told the committee he “was put in many impossible situations over the course of his position.”
“By impossible situations, you mean the pressure from a political perspective?” she was asked. “I would agree with that,” Schuchat responded.
That pressure would be from former unlawfully appointed acting official Chad Wolf, Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short, and Pence himself, who “intervened in early March” when CDC experts refused to okay the order. The AP reported that those experts said “there was no evidence the action would slow the coronavirus.” So the men hopped on a call together for some good old-fashioned group bullying and instructed Redfield “to use the agency’s special legal authority in a pandemic anyway,” the report continued.
Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner writes that other documents released last week showed “both the extent to which members of the Trump White House interfered with efforts to protect the public, and the way they consistently worked to downplay the threat—leading to disaster.” That includes orders to delete emails by a political appointee, Paul Alexander, who demanded a stop to reports that negatively reflected the previous president.
Though that president is gone, all of his policies certainly aren’t. The Biden administration has shamefully continued enforcing Title 42, including defending it in court. The administration had a way out when a court in September ordered a stop to the deportation of asylum-seeking families under the policy. But the administration appealed and won. Numerous administration officials, including Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, have continued to defend Title 42 as a public health matter. Schuchat’s testimony continues to confirm that’s complete bullshit. The policy has also since been slammed as “illegal” by a former senior State Department official.
The administration has also since eased restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors from Canada and Mexico, yet continues to refuse to budge regarding Title 42 and asylum-seekers. Why not just vaccinate them, you might ask? Plans to do that as part of a Title 42 wind-down were briefly thought out but then “scrapped by top White House officials, including Susan Rice, who feared that unwinding the border policy would increase the political pressure on the administration,” CBS News reported.
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