Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) grilled President Joe Biden’s nominee for director of the National Institutes of Health, Monica Bertagnolli, on Wednesday over her willingness to comply with the House of Representatives investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic should she be confirmed by the Senate.
“I can reassure you that I take Congress’s responsibility for oversight for the NIH and, if confirmed, my responsibility as director of NIH to be compliant regarding that oversight extremely seriously,” said Bertagnolli.
Bertagnolli is currently the director of the National Cancer Institute at NIH and was nominated by Biden in May in part due to her progress in moving forward the president’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative.
Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing on Bertagnolli’s confirmation after several months of stonewalling by Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who vowed earlier this summer not to move forward with health-related confirmations until the Biden administration made a concerted effort to lower prescription drug prices.
Braun specifically asked Bertagnolli about her willingness to cooperate with the work of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic and its efforts to investigate David Morens, a top aide to former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci.
The subcommittee’s investigation into Morens began in June when it uncovered emails documenting that the top NIAID aide wrote to his colleagues explaining that he used his personal email account for official NIH business to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests and media scrutiny. Morens also wrote to his colleagues in September 2021 that he would always “delete anything [he did not] want to see in the New York Times.”
On Friday, the subcommittee issued a subpoena to acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabak to provide information on the agency’s internal investigation into Morens’s conduct. Prior to the subpoena, the subcommittee said NIH officials had not provided a meaningful response to requests for information.
Bertagnolli responded to Braun’s questioning by saying that she would “assume the position to be accountable and transparent and to work with [Congress] to resolve these important issues” if confirmed.
Bertagnolli said that she has never previously communicated with Morens and told the committee that she would never use a personal email address to conduct NIH business.
Throughout the hearing, Bertagnolli emphasized her willingness to partner with Congress to deliver better medical and health outcomes for the public through research.
Tabak has been acting director of the NIH for nearly a year since former Director Francis Collins stepped down.
Voluntary transcribed interviews for the select subcommittee on the issue of COVID-19 origins have been scheduled for both Tabak and Collins in early December.