The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has been under fire for reportedly exchanging questionable emails and maintaining a ‘cozy relationship’ with the American Federation of Teachers over the agency’s school opening guidelines. The emails raised concerns for House Republicans about the Biden Administration prioritizing politics over science and top Democratic donors over children.
The emails were first obtained by the conservative watchdog group Americans For Public Trust through a Freedom of Information Act. They present back-and-forth conversations between the AFT union president Randi Weingarten, CDC officials, and Biden Administration officials leading up to the February CDC guidelines.
The emails revealed how the teacher union was making multiple language suggestions for the CDC’s latest guidelines and that teachers should have priority in vaccinations before schools can safely reopen. They also demanded that those with preexisting conditions or at increased risk for COVID-19 should continue working from home.
A top AFT official even described the union as the CDC’s “thought partner” and thanked several officials for carrying a “rich discussion” about forthcoming CDC guidance and being open to the suggestions made by president Weingarten and the AFT.
Other emails reveal that union officials were sent a draft of the CDC guidance before it was announced and that they could provide initial feedback and find ways to “strengthen” the overall document. The CDC defended the email relationship with AFT and said it is part of a “long-standing practice” to engage with organizations and groups that are impacted by the guidance and recommendations at hand.
“We do so to ensure our recommendations are feasible to implement and they adequately address the safety and wellbeing of individuals the guidance is aimed to protect. These informative and helpful interactions often result in beneficial feedback that we consider in our final revisions to ensure clarity and usability,” said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for Walensky.
GOP lawmakers, however, have called out the ‘politicized public health bureaucracy’ in the CDC’s answering and pointed out that teacher unions are major political donors to Democrats, including to President Joe Biden. Weingarten donated $20 million to Democrats in 2020 alone and the AFT has donated more than $100 million to political campaigns since 1990, with 99.74% going to Democrats.
The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Ranking Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers wrote a letter to Dr. Walensky noting that the emails raise significant concerns over the CDC guidance in health care matters. She said the emails shed “new light on your public about-face” on whether schools can safely reopen and that their decisions should be guided by science, not political interest groups.
“Such revelations also raise serious questions as to whether you are honoring your pledge to ensure CDC guidance is evidence-based and free from politics,” she wrote.
But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on the claims that the CDC has caved to one of the most powerful teacher unions in the country. She called the statements “false” and argued that these groups are the ones impacted by guidance and recommendations set by the CDC.
“It doesn’t mean they are taking everything they want or even a percentage of what they want, but it’s important to understand the implementation components. They do so to ensure that recommendations are feasible and that they adequately address the safety and well-being of the individuals the guidance is aimed to protect,” Psaki said.
If Biden, the CDC, and the rest of the Democrats claim to be “following the science,” then why does it matter what a political organization has to say? The guidelines are not “free from political meddling,” they are purely political.