Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) and a host of other House Democrats on Wednesday asked the U.S. Department of Justice whether it planned to expand its probe into the handling of the virus at long-term care centers would extend past a handful of blue states.
“While we do not deny that the federal government must protect residents of LTCs and any institutionalized individual, this action by DOJ does not actually protect those individuals. Instead, it appears DOJ is abusing its power by taking aim at states that have criticized President Trump’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing a pattern of unprecedented politicization of the DOJ’s activities since 2017.”
Late last month, The Department of Justice requested information about deaths in a small subset of long-term care facilities in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Each of the states has a Democratic governor who has, at times, criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
At present, no such investigations have been launched in Republican-controlled states, many of which continue to report thousands of new virus cases each day.
“At least 14 states — including Kentucky, Utah, and Arizona — have issued similar nursing home guidance all based on federal guidelines — and yet the four states listed in the DOJ’s request have a Democratic governor,” the Democratic House members said. “We question DOJ’s targeting of these four states instead of all the states that modeled guidance on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
When the request was issued, a spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy called the Trump administration’s request politically motivated.
The widely-reported probe asks whether a March executive order issued by Murphy that required long-term care facilities to readmit patients who had contracted COVID-19 and sequester those who had not yet recovered contributed to the more than 7,000 that have died of the virus in the state’s nursing homes and other long-term care locations.
Still, the probe is incredibly limited, targeting as little as 3% of such facilities in the state. The lawmakers asked if the Department of Justice planned to independently review state and federal COVID-19 policies that may have contributed to long-term care deaths.
It also asked whether the department planned to launch similar probes in states still experiencing high case counts and whether the department would investigate virus deaths in prisons and other correctional facilities.
Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), Donald Norcross (D-Camden), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), Albio Sires (D-West New York) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark) were among those that signed onto the letter.