A perfunctory meeting of the state Senate Investigations Committee on Monday became heated when Republican Sen. Tom O'Mara unsuccessfully sought to subpoena Health Commissioner Howard Zucker over gaining more information on the deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic.
It ended with O'Mara's microphone being muted during the virtual meeting.
But it's unlikely to quell the rising voices from both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature over the controversy surrounding nursing homes during the pandemic and the state Department of Health's undercounting of deaths as laid out in a report by Attorney General Letitia James last week.
Zucker is scheduled to testify to lawmakers on Feb. 25. But last Thursday, he released for the first time a break down of nursing home resident deaths in the facilities themselves and hospitals.
It also came after Investigations Committee Chairman James Skoufis earlier last week once again did not rule out a subpoena in order to compel Zucker to provide more nursing home data.
That did not stop O'Mara from pushing the subpoena now "in light of the bombshell report."
"That report took a lot of guts from the attorney general and I certainly have to give her credit where it's due, it's taking on an 800-pound gorilla by taking on the governor," said Republican Sen. Anthony Palumbo during the meeting.
Skoufis, however, blasted the motion for a subpoena as a political stunt.
Prior to the Democratic takeover of the chamber, the Investigations Committee was a relatively sleepy panel, and had not issued a single subpoena for a decade. Democrats have issued more than two dozen in the last two years.
Republicans who previously led the panel, Skoufis said, "wouldn't know a subpoena if it hit them in the face."
"I didn't get the courtesy of even a heads up that you'd be making this motion and instead you decided to ambush me and the committee with this motion," Skoufis said.
Still, how much longer will Democrats wait? There is little historic love lost between Democrats in the state Senate and Cuomo. And Democratic lawmakers last week in a series of statements seized on James's report, saying it merited further review and investigation.
"We have waited far too long," Skoufis said of the nursing home data. "It is offensive, it is insulting, to the Legislature that the Department of Health has continue to stonewall the public looking for this information."
Still, he plans to wait for the Feb. 25 hearing, when Zucker is set to speak with lawmakers about the governor's budget proposal. The expectation is Zucker will release further nursing home data between now and then, Skoufis said.
O'Mara was not convinced, however, adding there were further gaps in the attorney general's report that need to be filled in by a legislative investigation.
"I, for one, do not think we got the full picture from Attorney General James's report," he said.
And, as he tried to interject a final time as the meeting drew to a close, O'Mara's microphone was muted.