Top Senate Democrats are demanding to know why the Trump administration has not yet spent funds that Congress allocated earlier this year to ramp up the nation’s coronavirus testing and contact tracing capacity.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate health committee, wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over the weekend inquiring about the status of nearly $14 billion in funding for coronavirus testing they say has yet to go out the door.
“The United States is at a critical juncture in its fight against COVID-19, and now is the time for an aggressive and fast response,” the senators wrote in the Sunday letter. “This Administration will put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory, leave lifesaving work undone, and leave resources our communities desperately need sitting untouched.”
The emergency coronavirus stimulus legislation Congress passed in March, titled the CARES Act, included $25 billion to help expand state and local testing efforts. According to Schumer and Murray, the Trump administration has yet to distribute more than $8 billion of that package, in addition to other funds Congress set aside to provide free testing for the uninsured.
The U.S. is finally reporting 500,000 coronavirus tests a day ― a level experts say is needed to properly track and contain the outbreak. But the milestone was only reached in mid-June, months after the coronavirus pandemic began, with over 120,000 deaths and counting.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, told supporters at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the weekend that he told his staff to “slow the testing down.” Though his aides later said the comments were made in jest, Trump repeatedly declined to walk back the remark in an interview on Monday.
“If we did slow it down, we wouldn’t show nearly as many cases,” Trump said in an interview with Scripps News at the White House.
It’s not the first time Trump has seemingly come out against more testing. Last month, during an event in Pennsylvania, the president said the pandemic wouldn’t be as bad if the U.S. simply did not test its population for the virus.
“When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They [the media] don’t want to write that,” Trump said.
The White House on Monday stopped conducting mandatory temperature checks for staffers and visitors entering the grounds, removing another layer of safeguards put in place after Trump staffers tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year.
Top Democrats ripped into Trump after his rally on Saturday, accusing him of intentionally putting Americans in harm’s way to serve his political interests.
In a statement issued by her office, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Trump “ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared to lead.”
The campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s 2020 election rival, also lambasted Trump over his testing remarks on Saturday.
“To hear him say tonight that he has ordered testing slowed — a transparent attempt to make the numbers look better — is appalling. Americans deserve a president who will not make excuses in a crisis,” deputy Biden campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.
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