Headlines: July 28, 2020
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The United States Attorney General William Barr testified to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It was the first time in a year that he agreed to speak with lawmakers. The defiant Attorney General, who has been accused of politicizing the Justice Department, focused in his opening statement primarily on the deployment of federal officers to Portland, Oregon, referring to protesters as “rioters,” and justifying the use of force. Barr also refused to answer a question from committee chair Jerrold Nadler about whether President Donald Trump discussed with him the use of federal officers as a strategy for reelection. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also confronted Barr about the issue of systemic racism in police departments and the nation at large. The Attorney General responded saying he didn’t agree there was systemic racism.
A day earlier the new emerged that Trump was sending another hundred officers to Portland, this time, US Deputy Marshals. Mayors of several cities, including Portland’s Tom Wheeler wrote a letter to Congress demanding that they take action against the deployment of federal troops in their jurisdictions. Joining Wheeler were the mayors of Seattle; Chicago; Kansas City; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Washington. In the letter the mayors wrote, “This administration’s egregious use of federal force on cities over the objections of local authorities should never happen.” But US Attorney for the district that encompasses Oregon, Billy Williams, said that federal officers would not leave while protesters remained outside the city’s courthouse. Several Portland activists including those participating under the banner of the “Wall of Moms” and Black Lives Matter filed a lawsuit against Barr’s Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security over violations of their constitutional rights.
On the same day that Barr testified to the House Judiciary Committee, an Army National Guard officer addressed lawmakers about the use of force on June 1st in Lafayette Square outside the White House. The incident, which involved a violent and unprovoked clearing of anti-police protesters ahead of President Trump’s church-front photo-op, has come under scrutiny. Maj. Adam DeMarco, an Iraq war veteran who serves in the DC National Guard told Congress members that, “our fellow American citizens — were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights…Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.” But the head of the DC Park Police is now claiming that the clearing of protesters had nothing to do with Trump’s photo op– even though the President walked through the area soon after it was violently emptied.
In other news, Senate Republicans unveiled their latest version of a Covid-relief bill which includes a dramatic slashing of jobless benefits from $600 a week to $200 a week even as tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed. The bill also includes another $1,200 payment to adults, adjusted for income, and $500 per dependent. The Democrats’ version of the bill which passed the House has a much larger check for dependents. Additionally, the Washington Post explained that, “the GOP legislation contains a number of provisions not directly related to the coronavirus, including $1.8 billion for construction of a new FBI headquarters in Washington. President Trump has taken a personal interest in this project, but White House officials have not stipulated why they believe the language needed to be inserted in the coronavirus bill.” Trump wants the FBI headquarters to remain in DC, across from his own Trump Hotel, rather than have it moved to the suburbs as per earlier plans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially appeared surprised to learn that the FBI building provision was included in the bill. Republicans need at least 5-6 Democrats to join them in the Senate, and also have to contend with possible defections from their party. Jobless benefits run out in just days which almost certainly will lead to gaps in benefits.
The coronavirus-related news continues to be bad with Florida as the nation’s new epicenter. The Republican-run state has suffered 6,000 deaths and nearly half a million cases of infection. Young people are particularly impacted with a 34% jump in Covid-related hospitalizations of patients under the age of 18 since July 16th. In spite of this, Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to move forward with in-person classroom instruction within a few weeks. The Republican governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, who has sued Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her mandate to wear face masks in public, has now shown some reluctance in pursuing the legal action. Kemp declined to appear at a hearing on Monday over the suit. A large majority of Americans, including Republicans, now supports a federal mask mandate to control the spread of Covid-19. Meanwhile the New York Times published a study showing that areas where Covid-19 deaths rise, see a resulting fall in political support for Republicans and President Trump.
The Democrat-run state of California is also struggling with Covid cases although per capita infections put the state at about 25th in the nation. Still, infections in California’s Central Valley are raging. The Latino-heavy population in the state’s agricultural belt is hard hit. Californians are also deeply concerned about Covid infections among the state’s prison population and on Monday dozens of protesters were arrested after they chained themselves to the gate of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s home. The protesters want Newsom to release prisoners particularly from San Quentin prison where hundreds of inmates have been infected.
As growing numbers of Americans succumb to the contagious virus, President Trump posted excerpts of a lie-filled video on the subject on his Twitter feed, after the same video had been removed by Facebook for violating its standards. The Facebook video had already been viewed millions of times before it was removed and then millions more saw it when Trump posted it. The videos in question touted a supposed “cure” for Covid-19 in the form of Trump’s favorite drug Hydroxychloroquine which several studies have found is ineffective or even dangerous. Although Twitter eventually removed the offending video, it allowed Trump’s account to remain active but temporarily penalized the President’s son, Donald Jr. for posting the same type of content. Donald Jr. released a statement claiming it was, “further proof that Big Tech is intent on killing free expression online and is another instance of them committing election interference to stifle Republican voices.”
Meanwhile, Amazon is also under fire for selling unsubstantiated anti-viral “coronavirus supplements” on its website. The world’s largest retailer claims it has no control over third party sellers, yet the company makes a cut from every product sold and also features the dubious products under its “Amazon Choice” banner. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will appear alongside other “Big Tech” executives on Wednesday at a Congressional hearing. It will be the first time that Bezos will appear alongside Sundar Pichar of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Tim Cook of Apple at the same hearing. The CEOs are expected to defend against allegations that they control large monopolies and stifle competition.