Headlines: July 22, 2020
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President Donald Trump during his first coronavirus task force briefing in months, admitted that the pandemic would get worse before it gets better. Appearing by himself and without any of the usual experts he had stood with in April, Trump read from pre-written remarks that the spread of the virus will, “probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better…Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.” The words were in stark contrast to his often-repeated claim that the virus would “simply disappear.” Trump repeated several other false claims saying that the US has done much better than most countries on the virus response and has also had a higher testing rate. He said, “our case fatality rate has continued to decline,” at the same time as the US daily death toll from Covid-19 this week surpassed 1,000 – the highest it has been since May. During Tuesday’s briefing Trump also reversed his position on mask-wearing saying, “We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask…Get a mask, whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They’ll have an effect, and we need everything we can get.” In April Trump had mocked a reporter wearing a face mask as, “politically correct,” and had said, “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it…Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”
With more than 80,000 Americans dead from the virus, Peter Gaynor the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency testified in front of the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday about the federal government’s response to the Covid crisis. Responding to questions about the availability of Personal Protective Equipment, Gaynor said this. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff wrote a joint op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday making the case for a 9/11 commission style inquiry into the federal government’s mishandling of the virus. Feinstein and Schiff want a bi-partisan commission with open hearings.
Within the hardest-hit states the virus continues to wreak havoc as Texas hospitals say they are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. Federal inmates in Texas have also been hit hard with one women’s facility recording 500 positive infections. California, the nation’s most populous state is also struggling as thousands of inmates have been infected. The spread of the disease among inmates is being attributed to prisoner transfers between facilities. California has now surpassed New York for having the largest number of infections in the nation.
Meanwhile the Republican Party is in disarray as Covid-related unemployment benefits for 20 million Americans expire this week and there is still no plan in place for the next relief funding bill. The Washington Post described it as, “[a] major intraparty rift widened between the White House and Senate Republicans.” The White House had wanted to cut funding for Covid-19 testing and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and now have reportedly abandoned that position. Trump also insists on a payroll tax cut which is the first step toward cutting Social Security and Medicare. The House already passed a $3 trillion bill in May but Trump promised to veto it. The Federal Reserve is also considering how it can help stimulate the economy as it collapses under the weight of pandemic-related joblessness.
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has won a $1.95 billion government contract for delivering 100 million doses of a viable coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, with a total of 600 million doses to be made available. The vaccine would have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and would, as per the contract, be given out to the public for free.
In other news police have just dismantled the Occupy City Hall encampment in New York City. The tent city had sprung up as part of anti-police protests but, according to media reports had turned into a “a gathering of homeless people.” Police officers dressed in riot gear cleared out the camp, arrested at least 7 people, removed tarps and tents and cleared graffiti. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said “health and safety” concerns drove the decision. Meanwhile a number of city mayors around the country are rejecting the federal government’s decision to send paramilitary forces from the Department of Homeland Security to deal with protesters. Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot says her city needs help with gun violence, not protesters. On Wednesday 15 people were targeted in a drive-by shooting outside a funeral home in Chicago. More than a dozen mayors including Lightfoot signed a letter to the Trump administration saying that, “These are tactics we expect from authoritarian regimes — not our democracy.” DHS has officially confirmed that it sent 3 paramilitary units to Portland, Oregon but refused to give information on how many were sent. Portland is being considered a test case for Trump to send federal officers to Democratic-run cities in what critics have denounced as a dangerously partisan violation of the US constitution. The officers wear camouflage, giving the impression that they are an occupying military force and some lawmakers are calling for an end to the use of fatigues. Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security Secretary claims that officers are not patrolling Portland’s streets, but simply targeting, “violent criminals” who are being labeled as such because they have vandalized property.
Trump on Tuesday ordered that undocumented immigrants be left out of census counts that are used in redistricting for political representation through elections. The move is another means to achieve what Trump tried and failed to do in requiring citizenship information be gathered via the census last year. His new executive order is expected to be legally challenged as well.
Trump has ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, in a move that appears to be part of his anti-China reelection strategy. Trump has accused Chinese nationals in the US of spying and stealing scientific research and ordered consulate staff to leave the country immediately. On Tuesday the US Justice Department charged two Chinese nationals with hacking into US companies’ computers for Covid-19 related research. China has countered that it will consider closing the US consulate in Wuhan in retaliation.
The New York Times on Wednesday reported that Trump tried to use his position as President to get a US Ambassador to Britain to help his Scottish golf resort obtain a lucrative contract. Woody Johnson, the owner of the NFL who is a Trump supporter and donor and was appointed to the US ambassadorship in Britain, raised the idea of moving the British Open golf tournament to Trump’s resort. Apparently, his deputy warned him not to violate such ethical norms but he “felt pressured to try.” Ultimately he failed. The White House refused to respond to questions of whether Trump had yet again seemed to violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. And in other corruption related news, the Republican speaker of the Ohio State House, Larry Householder was arrested along with four others on Tuesday in a massive $60 million bribery case.