Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announced today that they plan to introduce legislation establishing a bipartisan commission to examine the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill will be a companion to legislation introduced in the House today by Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
The commission would conduct a comprehensive review of the government’s coronavirus response and make recommendations on how we can be better prepared in the future. The commission would complement other oversight efforts in Congress and elsewhere.
“The coronavirus showed just how unprepared and slow we were to respond to a major outbreak. And that lack of readiness endangered lives,” said Senator Feinstein. “We weren’t able to ramp up testing, we didn’t have enough safety equipment for doctors and nurses and we lacked any kind of consistent federal guidelines for states and cities. We know this won’t be the last outbreak, so a 9/11 Commission-style panel is necessary to fix these mistakes going forward and apply the lessons from this pandemic to future crises.”
“Keeping residents safe in dangerous times is a fundamental responsibility of government. Yet the past two months have made clear that the federal government was unprepared to confront the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, let alone both at the same time," said Senator Harris. "I'm proud to help introduce this bill because we must carefully document government's actions and mistakes in order to correct them when preparing and responding to future crises. 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.”
“Once we overcome this heartbreaking crisis, the American people deserve to understand how and why we were so unprepared. Our future depends on it. A nonpartisan, independent investigation – much like what was conducted after 9/11 – is absolutely necessary to understand the mistakes that were made and develop the lessons learned,” said Senator Blumenthal.
“It is tragically clear how unprepared the Trump administration was to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The families of the nearly 18,000 Americans who have already died due to this deadly virus deserve answers, and we need to learn how to better respond to future emergencies. A bipartisan commission will allow for an impartial investigation in order to ensure the safety of our country in the face of future emergencies, as well as provide information on how to align our budget priorities to tackle such an unconventional national security threat. The coronavirus is not the first biothreat our country has faced, and it will not be the last,” said Senator Markey.
“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,” said Representative Schiff. “And though we are still early in this crisis, over sixteen thousand Americans have died so far. It is clear that a comprehensive and authoritative review will be required, not as a political exercise to cast blame, but to learn from our mistakes to prevent history from tragically repeating itself. Over the last week, I’ve talked with my colleagues, former commissioners, and experts, and incorporated a number of their strong recommendations into this legislation, and will continue working with other Members interested in this critical issue to come to a consensus in the coming weeks and months.”
The House bill introduced by Representative Schiff is cosponsored by Representatives Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), David Trone (D-Md.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.).
The coronavirus commission will examine U.S. government preparedness in advance of this pandemic, the Federal government’s response to it and provide recommendations to improve our ability to respond to and recover from future outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. This legislation is modeled after, and closely mirrors, legislation enacted in 2002 to create the 9/11 Commission.
The Coronavirus Commission would:
- Be composed of ten members, with the same partisan balance as the 9/11 commissioners and prohibited from being current federal officials, with a variety of backgrounds in relevant fields, including public health, epidemiology, emergency preparedness, armed services, and intelligence;
- Provide a full accounting to the President, Congress, and the American people of the facts and circumstances related to the outbreak in the United States, including our preparedness, the intelligence and information we had available before the virus reached the United States, and how federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector, responded to the crisis;
- Hold hearings and public events to obtain information and to educate the public;
- Possess subpoena power to compel cooperation by relevant witnesses and materials from the federal government, as well as state and local governments;
- Make specific recommendations to Congress and the Executive Branch to improve our preparedness for pandemic disease;
- Have adequate staffing and resources to be able to complete expeditiously the monumental task at hand so we can be prepared for the next epidemic or pandemic to hit the nation; and
- Would not be established until February 2021, hopefully after the pandemic has been overcome and after the presidential election.