Rep. Ted Lieu did not hold back in an exchange with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when the latter spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Friday morning, telling Pompeo his refusal to answer a question on the coronavirus was “shameful” and later tweeting that Pompeo “lacks a spine.”
Pompeo, scheduled to testify before the bipartisan committee on “Evaluating the Trump Administration’s Policies on Iran, Iraq and the Use of Force,” faced a harsh rebuke from Lieu when the representative from California asked the secretary of state if he agreed with President Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff that the coronavirus is the “hoax of the day,” a remark Mick Mulvaney delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at which Pompeo himself was scheduled to speak later in the day. Pompeo sidestepped the initial question, however.
“The State Department is doing everything it can to protect American citizens around the world,” he responded.
When Lieu repeated his question, Pompeo said he would not comment on what others were saying, prompting Lieu to ask Pompeo the question directly.
“Do you believe the coronavirus is a hoax?”
“We’re working to keep people safe,” Pompeo said simply, again refusing to answer.
Lieu, clearly determined, continued the line of questioning.
“It’s not even a gotcha question,” the representative said, before repeating his question once more.
“It’s a gotcha moment, it’s not useful,” Pompeo replied.
Upon asking Pompeo once more if he could “just answer that question,” Lieu was met with another response that didn’t directly respond to the representative’s inquiry.
“We’re taking it seriously,” the secretary told him.
Lieu then invoked Pompeo’s pending speech at CPAC and refusal to extend his time before the foreign affairs committee, and criticized the secretary for prioritizing his speech to the private conservative group.
“So you can only give two hours to this bipartisan group of members of Congress, and instead of answering questions on life and death issues from a bipartisan group of America’s representatives, you’re going to go speak to a special interest group? You, sir, represent all Americans, not a special interest group. It is shameful you can’t even answer basic questions.”
Trump insisted a coronavirus vaccine was close to being made available while speaking at a press conference Tuesday and appointed Vice President Mike Pence as the coronavirus czar on Wednesday, putting the vice president in a position to oversee his administration’s efforts to combat the pandemic. Pence’s appointment to the role took place the same day the Centers for Disease Control confirmed a case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in California in a person without relevant travel history or exposure to a known patient with coronavirus.
Friday morning was not the first time Lieu questioned Pompeo’s spine, previously expressing his disbelief on Twitter over the secretary’s silence with regards to the potential threats faced by the former United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.