The May 12 Senate inquiry on the progress being made in the fight to contain the U.S. Coronavirus outbreak was historic, being the first congressional hearing conducted mostly remotely via videoconference. The four witnesses appeared virtually, as did the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Due to the circumstances, the hearing lacked much of the usual back-and-forth partisan sniping. Nevertheless, the political agenda of the committee’s Democrats was an undercurrent in the questioning.
Apparent to every reasonable observer of the hearing is that there is no foolproof way to predict how fast or how far this virus will continue to spread. Nobody can say for sure when an effective vaccine will be available or whether a return to relative normality will lead to another widespread outbreak, regional spikes in infections, or relatively little increase in Coronavirus cases.
Seeking Answers to Unanswerable Questions
Nevertheless, some of the Democratic senators attempted to pin down infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and other witnesses on specifics simply not available. These senators appeared to be advancing the fear that if the country reopens before every possible outcome is precisely defined and a vaccine is available, disaster will ensue.
Also, an effort seems underway to insist that no state could or should ease restrictions until the federal government provides it with everything it could possibly need to contain the virus completely. Perhaps the strategy is to ensure that President Donald Trump is held accountable for everything the 50 states do in their respective battles to get their economies back on track while continuing to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
Fauci — along with CDC Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir — were cautious with their responses to all the questions, which certain senators appeared to find frustrating. Considering that these four men have not been right about much so far, when it comes to predicting the unfolding pandemic, their reluctance to provide specific predictions was understandable.
In particular, Murray focused almost exclusively on criticizing the president and his administration and made no attempt to elicit from the witnesses any useful information. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was concerned only with extracting a guarantee that low-income Americans would not be left to die in the streets while the wealthy lined up for prohibitively expensive vaccinations.
As with so many hearings on Capitol Hill, nothing was said that was not already known. It seems as though the only point of the discussion was to allow senators to be seen as doing something when, in reality, they achieved nothing.
Indefinite continuation of stay-at-home orders and social-distancing rules can only exacerbate financial problems for millions of American businesses and citizens, while those groups identified as being at higher risk can still be protected. As Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said, deciding between reopening the country and saving lives is a “false dichotomy.”
Read more from Graham J. Noble.
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