Miss a day, miss a lot. Subscribe to The Defender's Top News of the Day. It's free.

Top Biden officials from federal health agencies faced tough questioning about their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday in a joint congressional hearing of the Oversight and Investigations and Health subcommittees.

Republican lawmakers indicated this will be the first of many hearings into the administration’s handling of the pandemic. A separate committee will investigate questions around the potentially fraudulent mishandling of $5 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds.

“President Biden’s public health leaders are here today because they have broken the American people’s trust,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said in her opening remarks.

“My message today to all the administration public health officials is that this is going to be a long road. Trust is broken a lot faster than it is built. And many will say that the American people deserve an apology, but they deserve much more,” she added.

Dr. Lawrence Tabak, acting director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Dr. Robert Califf, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) responded to four hours of questioning.

Committee Republicans pressed the officials on their failed oversight of gain-of-function research, challenged the agencies’ rationale for vaccine mandates, mask mandates and school closures, and interrogated them on their role in suppressing information on social media, all of which they said have caused a loss of faith in public institutions during the pandemic.

Committee Democrats largely praised the officials.

“I’m immensely grateful for the witness’s leadership,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) in her opening comments, capturing the sentiments expressed by other Democrats.

“I look forward to hearing how you plan on incorporating the lessons learned from COVID-19 to further strengthen your agencies and these important missions for the future,” Castor added.

Republicans are pursuing investigations into the virus’ origins.

Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Griffith (R-Va.), Health Subcommittee Chair Guthrie (R-Ky.), and Reps. Burgess (R-Texas), Carter (R-Texas), Duncan (R-S.C.), McMoriss Rogers and Lesko (R-Ariz.) raised questions about the NIH’s lack of oversight into funding for EcoHealth Alliance, an NIH grant recipient that funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the virus may have originated.

Late last month, an internal federal watchdog agency found the NIH had made significant errors in its oversight of EcoHealth Alliance grants. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report outlining missed deadlines, confusing protocols and misspent funds — raising and reinforcing concerns about the government’s system for monitoring research on potentially risky pathogens.

Republican committee members made several requests to the NIH for documents relating to EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan lab. The requests were ignored until the night before the hearing.

Griffith accused Tabak of stonewalling the committee and pressed him on why, after EcoHealth Alliance failed to comply with NIH documentation requirements, the NIH continued to fund it.

Carter asked whether NIH was funding, or had ever funded, gain-of-function research, which is banned from funding by HHS.

Tabak said they had brought EcoHealth Alliance into compliance and that the NIH did not now, and had never, funded the type of gain-of-function research people were concerned with, except for once, in the Netherlands in research on influenza.

But Republican committee members were not convinced. Lesko asked Tabak how he could be certain the NIH wasn’t funding gain-of-function research given that they didn’t have the reports from their subgrantees, as indicated in the OIG report.

Duncan directed Tabak to check with his staff and amend his definitive responses on gain-of-function research.

Several Republicans on the committee who are medical professionals said they were frustrated with federal officials over their use of faulty science for determining mitigation strategies like masking, vaccine mandates and school closures, which they said led to loss of public trust in their institutions.

“It’s demoralizing, and it is depressing that agencies that were once held in such esteem cannot translate and transfer research and evidence and respond to real-world evidence when they come up with strategies and policies,” said Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), a physician.

“It’s not just a messaging problem, it was a problem of bias within the agencies,” Miller-Meeks said.

As the only committee member to comment on vaccine injury, Miller-Meeks also expressed frustration with “the failure of the CDC to acknowledge myocarditis, pericarditis and young people and still advocate for vaccines in young men.”

Miller-Meeks said:

“Despite that risk, which we talked about finally last year, there’s a risk-benefit that has to be considered, but was not considered in these mandates — menstrual irregularities and young women …

“The failure of the FDA to utilize their own advisory boards when approving vaccines in certain age groups and rushing approval in these age groups, and then their slowness to advance any therapeutics.

“And what evidence can you tell me, what evidence-based research that shows 6-ft. distancing is appropriate?”

Walensky on multiple occasions throughout the hearing emphasized the evidence-based nature of all CDC recommendations and said the CDC will continue to support vaccination.

She also said the CDC will continue masking when “community levels” of COVID-19 are high, despite the recent Cochrane review that found little-to-no evidence for the effectiveness of masking to prevent COVID-19 transmission. She disagreed with the review’s findings.

Reps. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Sarbanes (D-Md.), Eshoo (D-Calif.), Pallone (D-N.J.) Kuster (D-N.H.) and Castor focused their questioning in part on how they could support the agencies in accessing better data faster.

Walensky emphasized the need for “data authorities” and “data modernization” for the CDC. She said part of the problem the CDC faced was the lack of infrastructure to share data, and part of it was in the data itself because a lot of data have to be shared voluntarily.

She lamented lacking data on how vaccination was rolling out in communities. “I can’t tell you how many people have been vaccinated in the hospital,” Walensky said. “We don’t have data systems that can do that. We don’t have authority to collect it, and it’s not voluntarily reported.”

Many people were alarmed last month when it was revealed that the CDC had established codes for tracking COVID-19 vaccination status, particularly given the restrictions placed on, and stigma associated with, being unvaccinated, despite widespread concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.

Reps. Harshbarger (R-Tenn.) and Cammack (R-Fla.) asked officials about the agencies’ role in defining “misinformation” and collaborating with other officials or with Twitter to discredit dissent.

Walensky and Tabak both said they couldn’t comment because of ongoing litigation.

The hearing is expected to be the first of many on the pandemic response and the origins of COVID-19. A separate committee plans to investigate how “hundreds of billions of dollars” in COVID-19 relief funds were lost to fraud during both the Trump and Biden administrations, NBC News reported.

Watch here: