April 22, 2020

Udall Joins 9 Democratic Senators Calling for Broad Investigations of the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 Response

Senators want answers about whether Trump administration has made decisions about distributing life-saving supplies based on electoral concerns of the president and his political allies

SANTA FE, N.M.  U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined nine of his colleagues in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Offices of the Inspector General calling for investigations into the Trump administration’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response, including whether political expediency rather than the country’s urgent public health needs has driven the Trump administration’s distribution of life-saving medical supplies and equipment and other key public health and economic decisions.

New Mexico, along with other states, is facing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage, forcing some hospital staff and essential workers to reuse and ration masks and other protective gear. Hospitals are working in conjunction with the state of New Mexico to obtain more PPE to keep frontline health workers safe, but without a cohesive and transparent national strategy, some hospitals are running low – meaning some frontline health care workers are not receiving the equipment they need and would have under normal circumstances. New Mexico In Depth reports that at least 20 hospital employees in New Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The Trump administration has been unable to deliver urgently needed medical supplies through the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), including PPE and ventilators. The administration has also created confusion and distress among states by seizing equipment orders without any accompanying transparency about decision-making. The senators are seeking investigations into whether the Trump administration has made decisions about distributing life-saving supplies based on electoral concerns rather than the nation’s most urgent public health needs. The senators also raised concerns about Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s involvement in Project Airbridge and evidence he may have fast-tracked shipments at the requests of political donors and personal contacts.

“The distribution of SNS supplies during the coronavirus crisis has been slow and inconsistent, raising questions as to how decisions are made to distribute items from the stockpile,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter to HHS and FEMA Inspectors General. “Our concern about how FEMA directs the distribution of medical supplies is heightened by the fact that the administration has been confiscating or “commandeering” supplies ordered by states and local medical systems, for redistribution by FEMA—in contrast with President Trump’s earlier direction that states find equipment for themselves.

“This confusion has been exacerbated by President Trump’s public statements suggesting that governors’ political support for his administration could influence how much support they receive from the federal government,” the lawmakers continued. “This obfuscation underscores the need for clarity as to how decisions regarding the seizure and redistribution of supplies are being made, and whether or not they are tainted with political interference.”

Joining Udall in signing the letter, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

To read the full text of the senators’ letter, click here.