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Barack Obama

Lawmakers probe White House pressure over schools reopening amid coronavirus

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday asked the U.S. education secretary and head of a top government health agency for their correspondence with the White House to determine if political pressure influenced new federal recommendations on whether schools should reopen in the fall.

Public comments from Republican President Donald Trump and members of his administration made clear that reopening schools was a priority and interfered in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) messages to the public, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Andy Levin said in a letter.

“The challenging decision of whether and how to reopen schools safely for in-person instruction should be based on the best available public health information and guidance, without regard to politics,” they wrote.

Trump, who is running for re-election in November, has made plain his desire to see schools reopen in the fall so that parents can get back to work and help the U.S. economy bounce back after a shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

After Trump this month criticized the CDC guidelines on when and how school districts should reopen as too tough, impractical and expensive, Vice President Mike Pence promised new guidelines. Last week, CDC Director Robert Redfield issued a statement that strongly supported schools reopening in the fall.

The CDC also issued new documents and procedures to supplement the original guidelines, aimed at helping administrators and parents “facilitate” the full reopening of schools. The original guidelines stand, Redfield said, but the new documents provide more details and options for schools.

School decisions in the United States are made at a local level and federal health guidelines are recommendations, not requirements.

Repeated attempts by Trump and his administration “to insert politics into public health decision making have created confusion, undermined trust, and needlessly polarized this critical issue,” wrote Warren and Levin.

Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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