During a contentious exchange Tuesday at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) grilled acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf about America’s readiness to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Kennedy began his questions by asking Wolf how many U.S. cases of the coronavirus the department was expecting.
Wolf said that he didn’t have an exact number at the time, but was working with the Department of Health and Human Services to figure that out.
After further back and forth that didn’t yield the estimation that Kennedy was looking for, the senator said to the secretary, “You’re the secretary, I think you ought to know that answer.”
“To my knowledge, we do,” Wolf answered. “I’m focused on making sure that our operators at DHS, make sure they have the protective equipment. And I know, as part of the supplemental—” he added before being cut off by Kennedy’s response that “Well, we just heard testimony that we don’t.”
“A briefing,” Kennedy said. Senators were briefed on the outbreak by administration officials earlier that morning.
Wolf asked the senator to clarify whether he meant for medical professionals or for patients.
“For every American who needs one who gets the disease,” Kennedy clarified.
“Again, I would refer you to HHS on that. My budget supports the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security,” Wolf responded, while speaking over Kennedy. “You’re the secretary of Homeland Security,” Kennedy said.
After some more back and forth, a frustrated Kennedy said:
“Mr. Secretary, I’m going to hush here. You’re supposed to keep us safe,” Kennedy concluded. “And the American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus. And I’m not getting them from you.”
The questions Sen Kennedy was asking were specific to the medical field and should be directed to CDC and HHS. DHS’s authority in this area at this time is primarily related to incoming travelers.
— Heather Swift, DHS spokesperson (@SpoxDHS) February 25, 2020