Ranking Member Ruiz’s Opening Statement at Select Subcommittee Hearing on HHS Compliance with Congressional Oversight
Washington, D.C. (January 31, 2024)—Below is Ranking Member Raul Ruiz, M.D.’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic hearing assessing the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) compliance with Select Subcommittee Republicans’ oversight requests.
I’d like to begin by thanking Assistant Secretary Egorin for her participation in today’s hearing.
Select Subcommittee Democrats are appreciative of your willingness to voluntarily appear today—which no doubt has required a significant dedication of time and resources—and for your continued engagement with the Committee.
It is evident to me that today’s hearing is not about enhancing our understanding of COVID-19’s origins, advancing our nation’s pandemic preparedness, or addressing the public health challenges our nation currently faces.
It’s not even about meaningfully resolving any of the issues that the Majority has alleged when it comes to the Department’s responsiveness to their requests.
The truth is, it’s about political theater.
It’s about painting the Biden Administration as “stonewalling” the committee in a venue that is better suited for soundbites than identifying a path forward in negotiations regarding document productions.
So, let’s just be clear about why we’re here today.
Because the fact of the matter is, over the last year, the Department has operated in good faith with the Select Subcommittee, consistently providing documents responsive to the Majority’s requests and making Department officials available for more than 80 hours of voluntary transcribed interviews.
In total, the Department has made 30 productions of internal documents, communications, and information responsive to the Majority’s requests, including two dozen productions as part of the Majority’s probe into Dr. Fauci alone.
These productions have been made voluntarily, consistently, and with demonstrated effort to satisfy the Majority’s identified priorities.
For example, every week for five consecutive weeks, the Department had made productions responsive to priorities identified by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, with each production meeting an interim deadline set by the Majority.
And over the course of the Congress, the Department has also made significant accommodations for the Select Subcommittee, including providing copious details about its document collection process and arranging in-camera review of information underneath redactions.
Furthermore, all while constantly churning out productions, the Department has made 12 current and former officials available for voluntary transcribed interviews, totaling more than 80 hours of testimony.
This doesn’t exactly sound like stonewalling to me.
Look, I understand that in the oversight process, disagreements between Congress and the Executive Branch—two coequal branches of government—may arise.
However, to characterize the Department’s behavior as “intentional obstruction” when it has time and time again been responsive to this committee’s requests is a gross, politically calculated mischaracterization.
Furthermore, by holding this hearing today, the Majority has made it clear that they are more interested in soundbites than they are in reaching resolution on the issues they allege have taken place.
Simply put, this hearing is little more than a distraction from the fact that the Republican Majority has failed to accomplish anything to improve the lives of the American people and has chosen politically motivated probes over advancing constructive policies that promote our nation’s public health and pandemic preparedness.
Under the guise of determining COVID-19’s origins, the Majority has pursued a politically motivated probe, vilifying our nation’s public health officials and politicizing the Intelligence Community in the process.
And at the end of the day, our nation is no better for it.
In no way has this probe enhanced our understanding of how COVID-19 came to be, in no way has it made our country better prepared for the next pandemic, and in no way has it promoted our nation’s public health.
I have repeatedly and earnestly called for this Select Subcommittee to change course because I am deeply concerned that we are wasting critical hours, days, months, years failing to adequately protect our nation from the next public health crisis.
Six months ago, I wrote to the Chairman expressing my concern about the direction we were headed in.
And now as we sit here today, we have pandemic prevention and preparedness programs expiring under PAHPA, we have a debilitating distrust in our nation’s public health systems, we have childhood vaccination rates at an all-time low, and at the very same time, we have a Majority in the House trying to make extreme cuts to vital public health programs at the very time we need them most.
I hope that going forward, the Majority will set aside their efforts to distort the facts and create a false narrative for partisan gain.
Only then will we be able to get to the work that really matters—putting people over politics to save lives and reduce harm both now and in the future.