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White House briefing covers questions about Dr. Fauci, relations with China

WASHINGTON, DC -- The White House claimed Wednesday that Democrats acted in poor faith when attempting to schedule a Congressional hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who the administration is blocking from testifying in the House even as it allows him to answer questions from the Republican-held Senate.

Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary, said the Democratic appropriations chairwoman attempted a “publicity stunt” by refusing to answer the White House’s questions about the topic for the hearing. 

“We don't have time in the middle of a pandemic for publicity stunts,” McEnany said.

House Democrats have charged the White House with stonewalling their attempts at conducting oversight of the administration’s coronavirus response by disallowing administration officials from appearing without the explicit permission of chief of staff Mark Meadows.

McEnany said Meadows held three phone calls this week with House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey to ascertain the purpose of the hearing at which Fauci was requested to appear. Fauci has been heavily involved in the response to the coronavirus, the biggest public heath crisis in decades.

Lowey was “unable” to tell Meadows the subject matter for the hearing, according to McEnany.

She said as part of his appearance before a Senate committee next week, Fauci would be questioned by Democrats and Republicans alike. And she said the House needed to “act in good faith” in calling administration officials to testify.

Asked earlier this week why Fauci wouldn’t appear before House committees, President Trump said the House amounted to “Trump-haters” who were trying to destroy him politically.

McEnany also discussed the strained relationship between the U.S. and China during Wednesday afternoon's news briefing.

"Right now, it's a relationship of disappointment and frustration because the President has said how frustrated he is that some of the decisions of China put American lives at risk," McEnany said.

In recent weeks, President Trump, along with several administration officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, have spoken to dozens of foreign allies about ways to collectively address what the White House says was China's intentional effort to conceal the severity of the outbreak, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Meantime, after facing questions about disbanding the White House coronavirus task force even though the pandemic hasn't abated, President Trump tweeted Wednesday that the task force would "continue on indefinitely" to focus on vaccines and therapeutics but that "we may add or subtract people."

Trump also said Drs. Fauci and Deborah Birx would remain in their current roles on the task force.

The President was asked what Fauci’s role will be moving forward during a meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“Same as it is,” the President answered. “He’s been doing a very good job, we’re very happy with Dr. Fauci, and he’ll be doing the same. And Deborah will be doing the same,” he added.

As more states begin to ease restrictions even as the country's death toll continues to climb, the president also is conceding it's likely more lives will be lost in the push to reopen the U.S. economy, while many Americans struggle to choose between life and livelihood.

The U.S. death toll has surpassed 70,000, and Trump admitted that it’s "possible" more Americans will die as governors lift orders that were invoked to slow the spread of the virus.

During his meeting with the governor of Iowa, Trump was asked if he believes the reported death toll in the United States. 

“It is what it is,” Trump answered. “Do I believe them? Yeah.”

Trump conceded that “it’s a big number” being reported, “but it’s also a number… that’s at the very lower scale of any number that was predicted.” 

“Now it’s time to open up our country. We’ve got to open up our country,” Trump said.

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