Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a subcommittee hearing on the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus:
"Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this important hearing on the coronavirus outbreak. It’s one of the reasons why I love this committee, we’re really in the center of things as well.
"I want to start by expressing my sympathy and condolences to everyone who has been impacted by the outbreak, including the people of China, other affected countries, and those here in the United States. It’s hard to imagine how painful and scary these past weeks have been for these families.
"Here on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we know that global health is critical to our national security. We held a hearing on women’s health this morning, but the rapid spread of the coronavirus over the past month shows this all too clearly.
"Our country needs substantial resources to strengthen our ability to prepare for and respond to public health crises like this. But instead of building up that capacity, the Trump Administration has scaled down some of our most critical public health institutions.
"Over the past three years, the Administration has slashed the budgets for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention known as CDC, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and the CDC’s Global Health Security Agenda, making it much harder for the agency to respond to outbreaks overseas.
"And here in the U.S., our own response capabilities are diminished. State and local health departments, our first line of defense in public health emergencies, are short-staffed, down tens of thousands of health workers compared to where we were just in 2008.
"This fiscal year, President Trump is proposing a nearly 20 percent cut to the CDC’s budget. And you heard that right. Just as we’re confronting the coronavirus, the President wants to cut the very agency on the front lines of fighting the disease. I think Americans from all corners of the nation will find that extremely unwise, if not crazy, and I hope all my colleagues will join me in opposing this dangerous plan and committing to supporting the CDC’s important work.
"Rather, building up our institutions is critical. So is working hand in hand with other countries and investing in international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO). In order for us to effectively fight this virus, we need to respond with evidence-based practices, transparency, collaboration, and communication.
"To that end, I’m glad that the Chinese authorities have been more cooperative partners with the United States and others in the international community in handling the coronavirus than they were during the 2003 SARS outbreak, maybe we learned something from that. But the way the Chinese Communist Party has treated its citizens in response to this outbreak is horrifying. Crackdowns on transparency and information, brave doctors and ordinary citizens facing draconian punishments merely for speaking about the outbreak. it’s unacceptable and must come to an end.
"And in our own country, we need to approach this outbreak with a scientific, fact-based approach. The United States—and other countries around the world—have put in place unprecedented travel restrictions in response to the virus. These measures are not proven to improve public health outcomes. Rather, they tend to cause economic harm, and to stoke racist and discriminatory responses to this epidemic.
"Now, I’ll turn to ask questions of our witnesses. I must note, I’m profoundly disappointed that the Trump Administration would not agree to send any government officials to testify today. I understand that there was some kind of briefing today but this hearing was set for a long time and we didn’t get any cooperation from the Administration. I’ve personally asked the Administration to send a witness to this hearing. The American people deserve to hear firsthand what the government is doing to protect them in this situation. Nonetheless, I’m pleased we have such a distinguished panel of experts before us today."