Congress Gets Working on Commission to Study Pandemic Response

WASHINGTON (CN) — America’s war against the novel coronavirus is not yet done, but House Democrats introduced a bill Friday to assess what the country did right and wrong in the global pandemic.

Spearheaded by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, the legislation calls for a bipartisan commission of 10 members with a background in public health, emergency preparedness and other relevant expertise. Members would be appointed by federal representatives, including leadership in both the House and Senate, with one member being appointed by the president. No current official can serve on the commission.

Colfax Avenue is the main street that bisects the metropolitan area in Denver, Colorado. Today many of the business that line the street are closed, part of a tapestry of millions of layoffs around the country. (Photo by AMANDA PAMPURO/Courthouse News Service)

Officially named the Commission on the Covid-19 Pandemic in the United State, the body also would have the power to subpoena relevant materials to their investigations and conduct public hearings, while briefing Congress, the president and the American people on its findings. If the legislation passes, the commission would not be established until February 2021.

The coronavirus commission is modeled after The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or the 9/11 commission, created in 2002. Similarly, this proposed group would examine the preparedness and responses by local and state governments to a national emergency and make specific recommendations to improve pandemic response.

Democratic Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein — both of whom represent California along with Representative Schiff — plan to introduce companion legislation in the Senate. 

In a statement Friday, Harris expressed concern about the lack of inclusion for people of color, when analyzing how communities were affected. The call comes days after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan directed the state’s health department to provide a demographic breakdown of Covid-19 infections and deaths.  

“The commission needs to take a holistic approach to oversight and cannot leave out an analysis of the disturbing disparity in prevention and health outcomes in the black community,” Harris said. 

Schiff said in a statement the commission was not a “political exercise to cast blame,” but one for comprehensive and authoritative review of the nation’s response to the novel coronavirus — which as of Friday has claimed more than 17,000 American lives, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center’s count of confirmed cases.  

“After Pearl Harbor, September 11, and other momentous events in American history, independent, bipartisan commissions have been established to provide a complete accounting of what happened, what we did right and wrong and what we can do to better protect the country in the future,” Schiff said.  

The bill’s introduction comes three days after President Donald Trump removed the Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Glenn Fine, who was tasked with overseeing the coronavirus relief fund. He will return to the intelligence community as the principal deputy inspector general. 

The president also recently removed Michael Atkinson, the inspector general who handled the whistleblower complaint, leading to Trump’s impeachment. Trump wrote in a letter to the Senate intelligence committee at the time that he had lost confidence in Atkinson and would be eliminating him from the position in 30 days.

The removals prompted House Democrats to introduce additional protective measures for inspectors general Friday and to adjust the reasons a president can fire these independent watchdogs — such as being negligent or malfeasant of their duties, or being permanently incapacitated. House committee chairpersons wrote Friday to Michael Horowitz, head of a council of inspectors general, that “there is no credible allegation that Mr. Atkinson failed to perform his duties properly.”

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