Originally Appeared in Politico.
By DAN DIAMOND
A Trump appointee accused of mishandling efforts to reunify migrant children who were separated at the border will testify before Congress on Tuesday after months of resistance, as newly empowered House Democrats push the administration to hold officials responsible for the policy.
Scott Lloyd, who led the HHS refugee office last year as it took custody of thousands of migrant kids separated from their families, will face a grilling on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee — one of four panels escalating probes into family separations. The hearing with Lloyd, a top target of the House Democrats’ sprawling investigation, could foreshadow his possible departure from the Trump administration amid dwindling internal support.
The hearing brings unprecedented heat on Lloyd, who until now has been shielded from public scrutiny by the health department and close allies in the White House, according to four administration officials who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive personnel matter.
Lloyd’s testimony, which Democrats had sought for months, comes at a tenuous time for him. HHS Secretary Alex Azar and other officials lost faith in Lloyd last summer as his office struggled to reunite migrant families, and Lloyd was effectively removed from leading the refugee office in the midst of the crisis. In November, he was formally transferred to the HHS office for faith initiatives.
Lloyd, a longtime anti-abortion advocate who's been supported by prominent groups, has seen his chief allies in the administration either leave or shift roles recently. An internal review completed in November concluded he had mismanaged the refugee office. And earlier this month, a career staffer in HHS told Congress that Lloyd ignored his warnings about the health risks of separating migrant children.Email
That’s made Lloyd a focal point for Democrats’ investigations — and HHS is finally making him available for testimony, even as the department rebuffs requests for Azar to testify.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the House Appropriations' Labor-HHS subcommittee, last week blasted HHS for not making Lloyd and other political appointees available to testify.
"Those are the people who need to be questioned, not the officials who were brought in afterwards to clean up their mess after thousands of children were separated from their families," DeLauro said in a statement.
Azar is likely to field lawmakers' questions on migrant children next month when he testifies on the administration's budget request before two House committees, a spokesperson pointed out.
"He looks forward to answering questions members may have about HHS programs, including those related to the [refugee] program," said HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley.
Trump health officials have tried to shift blame for family separations to the Justice Department, which announced the “zero tolerance” policy in May, and to the Department of Homeland Security, which implemented it. President Donald Trump ordered a formal end to the policy in June, though court filings this month revealed that hundreds of children have since been separated at the border.
But Lloyd, who didn’t have previous experience overseeing care for migrants, took steps that health department officials said slowed reunification efforts. Lloyd dissuaded staff efforts to track separated families, three individuals with knowledge told POLITICO.
After a federal judge in June ordered that the families be promptly reunified, Lloyd struggled to direct the effort, personally aggravating Azar and leading to Lloyd's effective removal for the duration of the crisis, five individuals with knowledge said.
Lloyd will testify Tuesday alongside Jonathan White, a career civil servant who briefly worked for Lloyd and was later tapped to help reunite migrant families. White this month told a House subcommittee that he urged Lloyd and two other appointees to try to prevent family separations in early 2017, more than a year before the Trump administration formally announced the policy.
“White pushed [Lloyd] into traffic,” said an individual who’s worked with both men. “Now Lloyd will have to throw DHS and DOJ under the bus or be run over himself.”
Lloyd did not respond to repeated inquiries from POLITICO. An HHS spokesperson said Lloyd was moved out of the refugee office in the fall to help “expand our outreach efforts to our community-based and faith-based partners.”
Democrats have long sought Lloyd’s ouster from the administration, even before the family separation crisis blew up. Lloyd previously drew scrutiny for personally trying to block abortions for undocumented pregnant teens in the government’s care. Those efforts, which prompted a class-action lawsuit that’s still pending, also won Lloyd support from anti-abortion groups closely aligned with the administration.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who's overseeing Tuesday's hearing, repeatedly called on Azar to fire Lloyd last year. Nadler’s office did not respond to questions about whether he still believes Lloyd should be fired.
The persistent attacks on Lloyd by Democrats and advocacy groups at times strengthened his position last year, making it more difficult to fire him, said two officials. Forcing Lloyd out “would have been seen as giving in” to political pressure, said one official.
Lloyd also had helped the White House achieve its broader goals of deterring undocumented immigrants, the administration officials noted. For instance, Lloyd signed off on an April 2018 policy to collect fingerprints from people who took custody of unaccompanied minors and share that information with immigration enforcement.
However, former Domestic Policy Council head Andrew Bremberg, who hired Lloyd and helped protect him, left the White House for another role in the administration. HHS has hired a new refugee director, and the agency overseeing that office, the division for children and families services, also has a new leader.
Lloyd has scarcely commented publicly on last year’s family separations. Meanwhile, HHS leadership has embraced White, the career staffer who opposed Lloyd and played a significant role in reunifying thousands of separated families. Democrats have similarly championed White as a truth-teller.
"We really do value the efforts that you have made," Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce’s oversight subcommittee, told White after he testified earlier this month. "But we intend to continue this investigation because many of the questions members have asked are questions that you can't answer."