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Rep. Jim Clyburn On The Government's Response To The Pandemic

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After news of the president's positive COVID-19 test result, a key cabinet secretary appeared before Congress. Alex Azar leads the Department of Health and Human Services. Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis questioned him on internal emails from officials in his department. The emails show HHS officials criticizing government scientists for comments on the extent and danger of the virus, accusing them of intentionally embarrassing the president. Here's Subcommittee Chairman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, questioning Azar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM CLYBURN: Will you renounce this kind of political interference and commit that it will not happen again?

ALEX AZAR: Mr. Chairman, as I said, I support debate. I support discussion. I support challenging each other. I do not support those statements.

SHAPIRO: The secretary insisted his department has changed personnel. He also spoke in favor of basic health advice like wearing masks, which the president has sometimes questioned. Azar wore a mask as he testified. After the hearing, Congressman Clyburn spoke with our colleague Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Are you confident that the White House will provide reliable information on the president's health?

CLYBURN: Well, I've never been comfortable with the White House coming clean with the American people. The president has told us that he likes to play it down, which I think is fine in a golf match, but not so much in life and death matters. So we'll see. But I think the American people know that obfuscation and misrepresentations has been the order of business with this White House.

INSKEEP: How confident can we be more broadly in information delivered by the administration about the pandemic?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't think you can ever be confident about it because what we hear from the administration and what we read in emails and other correspondence don't always line up. And so you got to decide - what do you believe, what they are saying or what they wrote in their emails?

INSKEEP: I think you're referring specifically to an email that was discussed at this hearing in which an administration official told another official, don't let anything go out until I have a chance to tweak it. That's a paraphrase. Is that correct?

CLYBURN: That's one of the things, yes. We have a plethora of those kinds of incidents.

INSKEEP: What should we do about that as citizens trying to go through our day-to-day lives and manage our own responses to the pandemic?

CLYBURN: Well, what we're trying to do, the select subcommittee that I chair, is trying to make sure that Congress's involvement in all of this is efficient, is effective and is equitable. And in doing that, we have these hearings to inform the American people. And beyond that, I don't know. I think that what we have to do is hope that the American people will take the information and use it in order to keep themselves safe and healthy.

INSKEEP: Were you satisfied with the secretary's responses?

CLYBURN: We were enlightened by his responses. Was I satisfied? I guess I'll have to say that with some of his responses, I was satisfied.

SHAPIRO: That's Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, talking with our colleague Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIS WILL DESTROY YOU'S "QUIET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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