Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are threatening to subpoena American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten as part of an investigation into remote learning policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, chaired by Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), is a panel under the House Oversight Committee leading the GOP investigation into “the societal impact of decisions to close schools, how the decisions were made, and whether there is evidence of widespread learning loss or other negative effects as a result of these decisions.”
During the pandemic, schools across the nation were closed, with many students learning remotely on Zoom or similar services. This transition to remote learning was followed by falling educational outcomes, with students underperforming, compared with their peers a few years ago.
Weingarten is accused by Republicans of having colluded with President Joe Biden’s administration to keep schools closed and teachers working under the comparably easier remote model.
In a letter to Michael Bromwich, legal counsel for AFT, the second largest teacher’s labor union in America, Wenstrup wrote that the committee “is investigating whether non-governmental groups exercised undue influence on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) scientific guidance.”
In April, both Bromwich and Weingarten confirmed that the AFT had advised the CDC on education policy during the pandemic.
But Wenstrup maintained that Republicans have had difficulty getting additional information from the AFT despite being “reasonable” and “[seeking] to accommodate” any concerns AFT had.
“Despite our continued and repeated reasonable accommodations, AFT continues to frustrate the Select Subcommittee’s investigation,” Wenstrup wrote.
“Unless an agreement can be reached soon, we will be forced to consider the use of compulsory process.”
The panel’s first request to the AFT came on March 28, 2023, when lawmakers sought documents and data of the AFT’s communication with the CDC.
Nearly a month later, on April 19, the AFT produced a handful of documents “with an assurance” that they comprised the entirety of the AFT-CDC communications.
On April 26, Weingarten herself testified before Wenstrup’s panel, where lawmakers learned for the first time that she had been in touch with Biden’s transition team and “had a direct line to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.”
Neither of these discoveries, Wenstrup said, had been included in the AFT’s April 19 files released to the panel.
After this hearing, the AFT was again asked to produce three categories of documents in light of new information.
While acknowledging that one of the requests was “proper,” the AFT in a May 5 response refused to comply.
According to Wenstrup, the AFT has argued that, after Weingarten’s April 26 appearance, she is under no obligation to reappear before the panel—a position Wenstrup dismissed as “not valid.”
“Of course, there is nothing in the House’s Rules, federal statute, or any court decision that precludes the Select Subcommittee from scheduling later transcribed interviews of a hearing witness (or other personnel employed by the same organization as a hearing witness),” he wrote. “The Select Subcommittee may sequence its investigative steps in whatever manner it sees fit. Even a cursory review or understanding of congressional investigations makes that clear.”
Additionally, he noted that no such condition was agreed to in exchange for Weingarten’s April 26 testimony.
He noted that the resolution that formed his subcommittee authorizes it to examine “the societal impact of decisions to close schools, how the decisions were made, and whether there is evidence of widespread learning loss or other negative effects as a result of these decisions.”
Wenstrup concluded his letter with another request for information, including all documents between Weingarten and Biden’s transition team, members of Biden’s executive staff, or Walensky.
They also requested additional testimony from Weingarten, but said they were willing to make an accommodation to suspend this testimony in exchange for the other requested information.
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