By BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) -- The White House, following its steps to limit congressional testimony from administration officials in May, has told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that it will only allow key officials to testify before committees meeting in-person -- an apparent dismissal of the House's new remote hearing system that will likely further infuriate Democrats and complicate congressional oversight efforts.
"By permitting proxy voting, remote hearings, and virtual depositions, the Speaker and the House majority demonstrated they are not serious about doing the job that the American people sent them to Washington to do," the White House said in an email to congressional officials obtained by ABC News. "Nevertheless, the Administration is serious about and committed to its mission to lead and execute the laws. Therefore, federal officials will appear in person before a committee and we ask that each Chairman do the same."
The Democratic-led House recently voted to authorize proxy voting and remote hearings, in an effort to limit lawmakers' travel to Capitol Hill during the coronavirus pandemic. The GOP-held Senate has repeatedly returned to Washington to vote with new social distancing measures in place, though some committee hearings have taken place virtually.
"The Administration is willing to make accommodations, but only when Congress is similarly willing to make accommodations, including agreeing to appear in person," the letter reads. "We also remain cognizant of social distancing guidelines and instances where witnesses will need to participate virtually as a result of quarantine, and we will review those on a case-by-case basis."
The notice said that no cabinet-level senior administration official, member of the coronavirus task force or the administration's coronavirus vaccine initiative is permitted to accept hearing invitations without approval from White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
"The Administration must continue to maintain its highest operational status to stop the spread and to reopen our economy. Every single agency continues to play a role in the response and this singular focus must continue," the White House wrote in the memo.
In May, the White House blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and key member of the administration's coronavirus task force, from testifying before the House Appropriations Committee on public health funding and the coronavirus fight.
The White House argued that the hearing was "counter-productive" and distracted from the coronavirus response, but allowed Fauci and other top health officials to appear virtually before a Senate panel for a hearing on reopening the economy.
Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused the White House of trying to avoid accountability and oversight when the initial restrictions on testimony were put in place.
"The fact that they said, 'We're too busy being on TV to come to the Capitol' is, well, business as usual for them," Pelosi said on CNN, adding that the White House "might be afraid of the truth."
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By BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC NEWS