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FACT SHEET: House Republicans Assemble Ragtag Team of Witnesses For Latest COVID-19 Political Stunt

Mar 27, 2023

This week, the MAGA Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic is launching yet another baseless partisan stunt. The individuals testifying in this hearing include a revolving door lobbyist for school vouchers, a “Twitter Files” author with no public health expertise, and a repeat witness who joined a group of physicians promoting “flawed data” and is suing California over medical misinformation laws. Once again, House Republicans are putting politics over evidence-based public health, enlisting a slate of lobbyists and loyalists as yet another partisan stunt instead of addressing the real issues facing Americans.


Virginia Gentles

Director, Education Freedom Center, Independent Women’s Forum

Virginia “Ginny” Gentles Is A Revolving Door Lobbyist For School Vouchers. Gentles had an extensive history of state and federal service prior to becoming a lobbyist for school vouchers. She was a staffer for the House Budget Committee in the late 1990s before serving as executive director of the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, which oversees the state’s publicly funded voucher programs (70% of which are used at unaccredited schools, and 59% at religiously affiliated schools). In 2006, she became a senior political appointee in the Department of Education under former President George W. Bush. After serving in the Bush administration, however, Gentles became a prolific lobbyist for the right-wing school choice movement, and continues to work with the American Federation for Children and School Choice Solutions to this day.

Ginny Gentles Is a Perennial GOP Witness. Gentles is so prolific on Capitol Hill that this is her second time appearing as a GOP witness this year—with just under two months of GOP hearings on the record. Just over a month ago, the Education and Workforce committee invited her to testify about the so-called indoctrination. She also served as a MAGA Oversight witness last year.

  • February 2023: Gentles Testified About “Woke Indoctrination,” Couldn’t Back Claims with Numbers When Asked For Evidence. “Virginia Gentles, director of the Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative advocacy group, decried what she called the “K-12 cartel” agenda to prioritize “activism over academic disruption.” […] Specifically, she claimed that schools are pushing young children to undergo gender-affirming care behind their parents’ backs and indoctrinating students with political ideologies surrounding gender. When Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., asked how many schools are “implementing woke indoctrination,” Gentles couldn’t provide a number but claimed there was substantial anecdotal evidence. Gentles called on lawmakers to pass the parents’ bill of rights in addition to the Educational Choice for Children Act, which would provide tax credits for people who donate to organizations that offer scholarships to private schools, and the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, which would prohibit schools from allowing transgender girls to participate in girls’ sports.” [EdWeek, 2/8/23]

  • May 2022: Gentles Encouraged Policymakers to “Empower Parents To Leave Public Schools” During an Oversight Hearing. “All but one of the witnesses at the House Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee hearing of the Oversight and Reform Committee expressed alarm that increased efforts to prohibit classroom discussions about race and LGBTQ issues undermine public education. Some went so far as to say rules limiting these conversations is an oppressive tactic that could contribute to creating authoritarian governments. […] Witness Virginia Gentles, director of the Education Freedom Center, a nonprofit that supports reforms to expand educational options, said the bigger crisis in schools is pandemic-related school closures that led to learning loss. She also criticized what she said is a slow response by school systems to use federal emergency funding to help students recover academically. ‘Policymakers should empower parents to leave public schools that do not prioritize academic instruction and enroll their children in options committed to educating students,’ Gentles said.” [K-12 Dive, 5/20/22]

Ginny Gentles Has Become a Leading Right-Wing Voice On Education Policy. Gentles serves as the Director of the Education Freedom Center at the Independent Women’s Forum and a contributor to the Independent Women’s Network. She frequently publishes articles and hosts discussions on school voucher programs, and her Twitter feed is littered with tirades against policies designed to protect trans students.

David Zweig

Author & Investigative Journalist

David Zweig Is An Author and Musician, Not An Expert On Public Health. Zweig is an author and investigative journalist currently working on a book about school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic entitled An Abundance of Caution American Schools, the Virus, and a Story of Bad Decisions, which he has described as “a roadmap for understanding the human, political, and social dynamics behind decision making in any long term crisis.” Despite these claims, Zweig does not have a background in public health or policymaking. He is a former recording artist, novelist, and visiting lecturer “about the intersection of media, technology, and psychology,” according to his website. As Billboard magazine put it, “David Zweig has so many creative ideas he can’t contain them to just one expressive medium.” He claims to have written for “The Atlantic, New York Magazine, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications,” but his articles in those publications include an assortment of non-expert perspectives on mask mandates in schools, herd immunity, moving to the suburbs, Twitter, vaccinating children, hybrid education and remote learning, school closures, and even travel advice.

David Zweig Published Portions of the “Twitter Files.” In spite of his clear lack of policy expertise on big tech, public health, social media, or free speech, Zweig published a portion of the “Twitter Files” at the behest of Elon Musk. In a drawn-out, editorial narrative thread published on Twitter, Zweig has accused the social media network of “rigg[ing] the COVID debate” by supposedly censoring information, discrediting doctors, and suppressing ordinary users. 

  • ‘Professional Quibbler’: Journalists Derided Zweig’s Twitter Files Analysis. “In each Twitter Files thread, we see unfounded assumptions, insinuations and personal interpretations given equal weight as facts, more or less establishing these as opinion pieces rather than factual reporting. That alone will have spiked a great deal of coverage, as however salacious the theory, little of what is actually provided satisfies editorial standards in many a newsroom. […] The words used above — rig, censor, discredit, suppress — are strong. But they are not accurate, and [David Zweig] , apparently a professional quibbler, applies a sort of malicious hindsight to a handful of borderline cases. The allegation here is that Twitter’s moderation team chose to use CDC recommendations as the basis for its COVID-related misinformation policy. This is neither new nor controversial, and not really even a sensible complaint. It is the role of that agency to study, justify, document, and promulgate best practices in health emergencies. What other authority should Twitter have sought for such a policy? None is suggested. Indeed no realistic alternative exists. It was a public health and misinformation emergency and clear lines needed to be drawn — fast, and rooted in some kind of authority — in order that moderation could occur at all. Twitter used the CDC in its capacity as expert agency in drawing some of those lines.”” [TechCrunch, 1/13/23]

Tracy Beth Høeg

Physician & Epidemiologist

A Return Witness for the House GOP, Tracy Beth Høeg Became A Right-Wing Public Health Expert During the Pandemic. This hearing isn’t the first time Høeg is making an appearance on Capitol Hill to testify at the invitation of House Republicans. In 2021, she testified during an Energy and Commerce committee hearing on COVID-19’s impacts on children, where other experts accused her of “perpetuating a false choice between children’s education and mental well-being, and their physical health and safety.” Before the pandemic, Høeg did not have a record of being particularly outspoken about public health measures—particularly vaccines mandates for school-aged children—or publishing frequently in major newspapers. Since 2020, however, she has authored dozens of editorials in The Hill, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and more. She has been cited by Newsmax, joined a Florida Public Health Integrity Committee created by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Tracy Beth Høeg Is Suing California Over Medical Misinformation Laws. Høeg is one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit against California governor Gavin Newsom, the state attorney general, and the Medical Board of California over a new law that prohibits physicians from spreading medical misinformation. Høeg and the other plaintiffs have claimed that their first amendment rights have been violated, and a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the law in January 2023.

Tracy Beth Høeg Joined a Group of Anti-Vaccine Mandate Physicians Promoting “Flawed Data.” Høeg authored numerous studies during the pandemic which found fault with both masking and vaccination policies. She was also a member of “Urgency of Normal,” a group of physicians who opposed masking requirements in schools. Numerous public health groups have rejected their claims: “Their arguments distort public health evidence.” As one journalist noted, “When scientists champion flawed data, they endanger other scientists.”