Congress probing White House influence over CDC’s cruise ‘no-sail’ order

A congressional subcommittee is investigating possible White House interference in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no-sail” order for cruise ships, which is set to expire at the end of this month.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York who chairs the House subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, has made an official request for records from the CDC. The request comes amid circulating allegations that President Donald Trump’s administration intervened when the CDC proposed that its “no-sail” order, which bans cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers from sailing in U.S. waters and has been in effect since mid-March, be extended into February amid coronavirus pandemic uncertainty. 

The CDC requested that the order be extended to Feb. 15, 2021, but compromised with the White House Task Force to extend it only until Oct. 31, four days before the Nov. 3 election, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY on Sept. 29. The CDC officially extended the order by just one month on Sept. 30.

And on Friday, cruise line executives met with Vice President Mike Pence on a conference call to discuss the return of cruising in U.S. waters. Their discussion on resumption included 74 recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel published in September, which were adopted for sailing in U.S. waters by Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s leading organization, on Friday ahead of the meeting. The industry’s proposal to resume sailing will be presented to the White House Task Force, which will then provide a recommendation to Trump for next steps with the CDC’s no-sail order, a readout from the call said. 

In a letter to Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, Maloney wrote that he is “worried about impairments to the independence of the CDC’s science-based and unbiased public health advice based on reported interference from the White House and political leadership at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).”

He also added he was concerned about pressure from the cruise industry.

“These ships shouldn’t leave port until we know passengers and crew will be safe and the ships won’t again become global vectors of disease,” Maloney said in a release.

The request for CDC records expands upon the committee’s investigation into Carnival Corp. over its handling of multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 on its ships. The company owns at least nine ships that experienced outbreaks, including the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess. The committee requested records from the cruise giant in May, including communications with the CDC. 

“The mistakes made at the beginning of this pandemic cost lives and caused chaos on board these ships,” Maloney continued. “Our investigation into the failure to keep travelers on cruise lines safe continues. If we’re going to fight this virus and win the battle, we cannot make the same mistakes, and we cannot afford another coronavirus outbreak.”

USA TODAY has reached out to the CDC; Cruise Lines International Association,the trade group that represents much of the ocean-going cruise industry; and the White House for comment.

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