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Warren Demands Investigation Into Trump's Coronavirus Response, Saying He Put 'Political Expediency' Before Public Health

"Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the president's concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks on the Democratic presidential primary campaign trail in 2019. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday demanded a federal investigation into President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the White House's handling of the public health and economic crises has been marked by "confusion" and "potential political interference" at the expense of the wellbeing of millions of Americans.

Warren was joined by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and other senators in writing to the inspectors general of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) and FEMA to call on the watchdogs to examine how the Trump administration has made a number of decisions regarding economic relief for Americans, the distribution of medical supplies, and other aspects of the pandemic response. 

"The Trump administration appears to have made decisions about distributing life-saving supplies based on the electoral concerns of President Trump and his political allies rather than the most urgent public health needs," the senators wrote (pdf).

On Twitter, Warren added the president appears to be "using his 2020 electoral map" to decide which states should receive help in fighting the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19 and had infected more than 822,000 Americans at press time, killing more than 41,000.

The administration, the lawmakers wrote, has used a number of excuses in recent weeks to explain why states are not getting ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other badly-needed medical supplies to fight the virus, despite Trump's repeated claims that the federal supply chain is "a fine-tuned machine."

"Per Warren’s letter," Bess Levin wrote at Vanity Fair, "HHS originally stated that stockpile distribution was based on a formula in which '25 percent of a state's requests were fulfilled based on its population and 25 percent on its number of COVID-19 cases.' Later, FEMA said that distribution was 'focused on meeting future demand models where patient levels are expected to strain state and local medical conditions in coming weeks' based on data from the CDC and HHS."

But Warren noted that Trump has indicated the reason for slow responses, particularly in certain states, is much more straightforward.

Trump and other officials have made "public statements," Warren wrote, "suggesting that governors' political support for his administration could influence how much support they receive from the federal government."

The senators wrote:

A White House aide recently credited electoral concerns and President Trump's close relationship with Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida for the prompt fulfillment of Florida's request for supplies from the [Strategic National Stockpile], saying "The president knows Florida is so important for his reelection, so when DeSantis says that, it means a lot…He pays close attention to what Florida wants."

Trump also told Fox News in March that states "have to treat us well" in order to obtain what they need to combat the pandemic.

The letter comes three weeks after Warren accused the president of a "dereliction of responsibility" following the federal government's seizure of at least two shipments of medical supplies that were headed for Massachusetts. The president also admitted to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker that the federal government would likely outbid the state as it attempted to secure equipment directly from manufacturers. 

The senators in the letter called on the inspectors general to investigate whether "political expediency" was behind the president's actions.

Separately, Warren was joined by Markey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in sending a letter (pdf) to the Pandemic Response Oversight Committee (PRAC), which was set up by the CARES Act to weed out fraud and corruption in the coronavirus relief program. That letter asks PRAC to probe the president's "politicization" of the response to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

In addition to Trump's decision-making about supply distribution, the three senators wrote, PRAC must investigate the president's insistence that stimulus checks for American households be delayed so his name could be attached to them "solely for either vanity or political benefit." The letter also called for an investigation into the "crass political propaganda" Trump has included in his press briefings about the pandemic, including the display of a campaign-style video. 

The latter was a potential violation of the Hatch Act, the senators claimed.

"These incidents appear to indicate that the Trump administration has infused political and partisan interests into its response to both the public health and economic crises," the senators wrote. "Americans should not have to wonder whether their lives are being put at risk by the president's concern for his political prospects amidst a public health and economic calamity."

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