Headlines: May 12, 2020
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The Senate health committee on Tuesday held a hearing to examine whether it was safe for Americans to return to work and school in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Among those testifying was the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been barred by President Donald Trump from testifying to the House because Democrats are in the majority there. During his opening remarks, Fauci warned that if states reopened businesses too soon, “we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” Also testifying on Tuesday were Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn and President Trump’s coronavirus testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir. The hearing was conducted with Fauci, Redfield, and several key Senators joining in via live video conferencing as they self-quarantined at home. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander who was in isolation after one of his staffers tested positive for Covid-19 chaired the meeting and said that the nation’s testing capacity was, “impressive but not nearly enough,” and then warned against “finger pointing,” because, almost every country, “underestimated this virus.” Senator Patty Murrey, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee countered that “Corruption and political interference have impeded efforts to secure desperately needed personal protective equipment and promoted dangerous, unproven treatments.”
Meanwhile House Democrats released a $3 trillion economic stimulus package on Tuesday and expect to pass it along party lines by Friday. The measure includes desperately needed state and local funding.
As the hearing unfolded, Trump tried hard to distract from the discussions by engaging in spewing angry tweets filled with defensive rants and conspiracy theories. A day earlier he held a press briefing standing in front of victorious sounding banners that read, “America leads the world in testing.” Analysts pointed out that Trump’s claims are flat-out lies and that even during the hearing there was talk of ramping up to the level of per-capita testing that South Korea conducted. South Korea is being held up as a model of how a government successfully tackled the virus. So far the US, a nation of 325 million people, has conducted only 9 million Covid tests. Many other nations have conducted far higher levels of per capita testing. As is his habit now, Trump also clashed with women reporters, including CBS’s Weijia Jiang and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. Trump defensively demanded that Jiang “don’t ask me, ask China that question,” when she asked why so many Americans are dying if the US is supposedly leading on testing. The Chinese-born Jiang retorted, “sir why are you saying that to me specifically?” After ignoring another female reporter trying to ask a question Trump stalked off, ending the briefing in a huff.
The federal government continues to draw scrutiny over its handling of the pandemic and this week the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force Dr. Deborah Birx admitted that the distribution of a controversial new drug called remdesivir was mishandled. NBC obtained an unreleased government document showing that new cases of infection in the country’s heartland have spiked, in some cases by more than 200%. Meanwhile the Labor Department is under fire for encouraging employers to report those workers who are too frightened to return to work saying that they were ineligible for unemployment benefits. The Labor Department is traditionally meant to advocate for workers, not bosses. In line with that guidance, the states of Ohio and Iowa have set up online reporting tools for employers to report workers. Meanwhile as the federal government pushes states to reopen in violation of its own guidelines, a new poll found that most Americans support their state governors over the federal government, except in those cases where states are reopening too soon. Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp and Florida’s Ron DeSantis had the highest disapproval ratings.
Although the state of California remains mostly closed, top tech billionaire Elon Musk defied orders and reopened his Tesla factory in Fremont, daring officials to arrest him and garnering the support of Trump. Tesla is suing Alameda County, California for refusing to lift stay-at-home orders. Elsewhere in the nation, auto workers are also returning to work in states like Michigan although consumer demand for cars remains low.
The US’s indigenous population is on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis as the 500 or so tribally owned casinos remain largely closed and have cut off incomes for communities. One expert estimates that about two thirds of tribal employees are out of work and that it is a matter of “life and death.” The Navajo Nation, located in New Mexico and Arizona is facing one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the nation, so much so that the international aid group Doctors Without Borders has rushed to help. The rate of per capita infections in the US’s most populous tribal nation, is higher than in any other state.
In other news, the US Supreme Court this week is hearing arguments in 3 cases centered around President Trump’s refusal to allow his former accounting firm and two banks to release his tax returns. While Trump’s lawyers claimed he is being “harassed and undermined,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s office countered that no one is “above the law.”
In election news, Trump’s reelection campaign fundraising slowed for a second straight month, indicating his waning popularity. But he still remains more competitive financially compared to his rival Joe Biden. A new poll found Biden’s popularity fell by several points although he remained more popular than Trump but only by a sliver. And the state of Nebraska held its primary election on Tuesday – the first in-person race since Wisconsin’s controversial election over a month ago. A large number of Nebraskans had already voted by mail.
In international news, Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus was documented to have originated, has reported 6 new cases of the virus in what officials fear may be the start of a second wave of infections. In sharp contrast to the US, Chinese government officials announced an ambitious plan to test all 11 million residents to stamp out the spread of the disease.
In Afghanistan, residents were stunned by back-to-back violent attacks that included a gunman entering the maternity ward of a hospital in Kabul and killing 16 people. The dead included nurses, new mothers, and even two newborn infants. Sixteen other people were wounded. On the same day a suicide bomber killed 24 people during a funeral procession for a local commander in Eastern Afghanistan.