Four Democratic senators demanded Friday night HHS’s Office of Inspector General launch an independent investigation into the change to the description of the stockpile, describing the action as “potential improper interference to advance a political agenda,” Politico reports.
The move came after the Trump administration quietly altered the government webpage for the Strategic National Stockpile to reflect controversial comments made by White House adviser Jared Kushner during a news conference Thursday evening.
According to a brief online summary on the Department of Health and Human Services website, the stockpile’s role “is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well.”
But just hours earlier, the text characterized the stockpile as the “nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”
The previous language stated that when “state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”
Also stripped from the new summary is a sentence that affirmed the stockpile “contains enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously.”
The revisions come after Kushner argued at the White House coronavirus task force press briefing Thursday that the stockpile’s reserves are the property of the federal government, not the states.
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile, it’s not supposed to be the state’s stockpile that they then use,” Kushner said.
Now Democrats want answers.
“The timing of the deletion appears related to Jared Kushner’s inaccurate statement yesterday that, ‘And the notion of the Federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile; it’s not supposed to be State stockpiles that they then use,'” wrote Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), according to Politico.
The shifting definition of the stockpile’s function comes as Kushner has seized greater influence over the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic from a new perch within the Federal Emergency Management Agency.