Merkley, Senate Colleagues Urge National Security Advisor to Appoint a Senior Global Health Security Expert as U.S. and Global Threat from Coronavirus Grows

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has joined 26 Senate colleagues in sending a letter to National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, pressing him to appoint a qualified, dedicated, senior global health security expert to the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) to address and coordinate administration efforts in response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and other global health security threats.

The lawmakers urged immediate action as the coronavirus continues to spread, even as the country’s top global public health position has remained vacant for almost two years.

In May 2018, lawmakers had questioned the administration about how this key vacancy might affect the U.S. response to a global pandemic. “These questions are even more salient today,” wrote the lawmakers, citing the more than 44,000 people in more than 20 countries who have contracted the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,100 people.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, and on January 31, 2020, HHS Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency in the United States.

“Families concerned about the novel coronavirus threat need to know the NSC has a dedicated, senior official with appropriate expertise and authority to address the domestic and global health threats from the virus. It is of paramount importance that this person approaches this role through a public health lens,” wrote the lawmakers. “We urge immediate action.”

Joining the letter are U.S Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The lawmakers have requested responses to their letter by February 27, 2020.

Click here for the full text of the letter.