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US Monthly Headline News March 2020 Page 7

By Heidi Glenn

A day after issuing a stay-at-home directive to Maryland residents, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said he and other governors are still "not satisfied" with federal assistance in response to the coronavirus crisis. Hogan, who is also the chair of National Governors Association, issued the directive on Monday as did leaders in nearby Virginia and Washington, D.C., to combat an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the mid-Atlantic region. Hogan spoke to NPR's Rachel Martin about President Trump's claim that there's no longer a lack of coronavirus testing kits and about the governor's own efforts in his state which, as of March 31, has 1,661 confirmed cases and 18 deaths.

How is Maryland preparing to help residents who test positive for COVID-19?
There's nobody in America that's prepared. And we've been working very hard on that for more than three weeks. We have a hospital surge plan, which we're in the process of [implementing]. ... We're trying to ramp up 70 percent increase in our hospital bed capacity; we've now opened, with the help of FEMA and our Maryland National Guard, a field hospital in the Baltimore convention center. We're opening closed hospitals. ... We've added already 2,400 additional hospital beds across the state but we're working to add a total of 6,000. With respect to the personal protective equipment and masks and ventilators and all of those things that your hearing about: Every single state in America has a shortage. ... We've been pushing these things at the federal level but there are simply not enough of them.

By Devan Cole, CNN

Washington (CNN) Former President Barack Obama issued a rare criticism of the Trump administration Tuesday after it announced it's rolling back his signature fuel standards aimed at combating the climate crisis, saying Americans "have to demand better" of their elected leaders. "We've seen all too terribly the consequences of those who denied warnings of a pandemic. We can't afford any more consequences of climate denial. All of us, especially young people, have to demand better of our government at every level and vote this fall," Obama wrote in a tweet. The comment is notable as the former President seldom publicly criticizes his successor, who has focused on undoing his legacy -- particularly his environmental and climate policies. Three years ago, Obama similarly lamented President Donald Trump's decision to pull the US out of the landmark Paris climate agreement, saying the move adds the administration to "a small handful of nations that reject the future." Earlier Tuesday, the Trump administration, which has already nixed a number of Obama-era environmental protections, announced it is replacing fuel standards rolled out in 2012 with a plan that calls for substantially lower annual increases. The finalized rule, prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, calls for fuel economy and emission standards to increase by 1.5% annually, rather than the approximately 5% increases in the 2012 rule. According to the rule, the standards will increase to 40.4 miles per gallon by vehicle model year 2026, about six miles per gallon fewer than the 2012 rule. In introducing the rule, the Trump administration said it was performing what it called "the largest deregulatory initiative of this administration." The change "reflects the realities of today's markets," the administration said, such as more interest in SUVs over smaller cars and automakers' current use of credits to meet their targets. According to The New York Times, which first reported on the details of the finalized rule, a recent draft plan showed that the rule would allow for nearly a billion more tons of carbon dioxide released, as well as 80 billion more gallons of gasoline consumed.

By Michael Poliakoff

Last fall, I wrote about the poor leadership of Liberty University, a private, Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the board’s lack of oversight over Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. At the time, I was responding to questionable financial decisions and investments that seemed to benefit or enrich friends and family of President Falwell. Now, the outlook at Liberty University has taken a turn for the worse: Despite “social distancing” recommendations by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and closure of public universities in Virginia, President Falwell reopened the school last week after its spring break. Finally, on Monday night, following Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order, Liberty University announced that it would be ending the last of its in-person instruction, at the School of Aeronautics, while allowing students to stay in dorms. But it should never have taken a stay-at-home order from the governor for university leadership to act with public health in mind. As of Friday, according to the New York Times (NYT), nearly a dozen students exhibited symptoms consistent with coronavirus, and one student tested positive. The Liberty University press office was quick to claim that news coverage of the ill students was falsified. Let us hope that Liberty University’s charge that the NYT is being alarmist turns out to be correct. What’s clear is that the decision to reopen the campus placed students, faculty, and staff at risk, neglecting the university’s responsibility to look after the health and safety of its constituents. Quibbling over news coverage of possibly infected students, rather than prudently closing the campus, further jeopardized the health of the campus community. And aside from compromising the well-being of Liberty University itself, President Falwell has ignored the university’s civic responsibility to the greater community and nation.

The bureau has routinely botched work on surveillance applications for its national security investigations, an inspector general said.
By Charlie Savage

WASHINGTON — An inspector general uncovered pervasive problems in the F.B.I.’s preparation of wiretap applications, according to a memo released Tuesday about an audit that grew out of a damning report last year about errors and omissions in applications to target a former Trump campaign adviser during the Russia investigation. The follow-up audit of unrelated cases by the Justice Department’s independent watchdog, Michael E. Horowitz, revealed a broader pattern of sloppiness by the F.B.I. in seeking permission to use powerful tools to eavesdrop on American soil in national security cases. It comes at a time when Congress is debating new limits on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The finding of systemic incompetence is devastating for the F.B.I. But in the Trump era, the discovery is leavened by an unusual side benefit for the bureau: It undercuts the narrative fostered by President Trump and his supporters that the botching of applications to surveil his campaign adviser Carter Page is evidence that the F.B.I. engaged in a politically biased conspiracy. Mr. Horowitz’s investigators reviewed so-called Woods files, where the F.B.I. is supposed to catalog supporting documentation for factual claims in a FISA application, in a random sample of 29 requests to wiretap someone as part of a terrorism or espionage investigation under FISA. They found problems with all 29. “We do not have confidence that the F.B.I. has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with F.B.I. policy, or that the process is working as it was intended to help achieve the ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications,” the inspector general report said. Testing the FISA applications against their underlying evidence “identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed,” the report said. The other four could not be scrutinized at all because the F.B.I. could not even locate the required Woods file. In the 25 applications reviewed, there was an average of about 20 problems each. One alone had 65 issues. In a statement appended to the report, the F.B.I. said that it accepted the findings but also that it believed it was already addressing the source of the problems through corrective steps it put in place after the earlier report about Mr. Page. Among those steps are greater training and new checklists that officials preparing documents for FISA applications must follow. Some of the problems the review found matched issues the inspector general previously uncovered with the Page applications. For example, F.B.I. policy requires that when investigators submit to a court a factual assertion by a confidential source they must internally document that the source’s handler was consulted about those facts and the source’s credibility and background.

By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor

(CNN) For the second time in two days, police have charged a pastor with defying public orders against large gatherings by holding church services with hundreds of members. On Tuesday police in suburban Baton Rouge, Louisiana, issued Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church a misdemeanor summons for six counts of violating the governor's executive order barring large gatherings. "Instead of showing the strength and resilience of our community during this difficult time, Mr. Spell has chosen to embarrass us for his own self-promotion," said Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran Tuesday in a statement. "Mr. Spell will have his day in court where he will be held responsible for his reckless and irresponsible decisions that endangered the health of his congregation and our community," Corcoran added. Spell, in a Facebook Live video after being served the summons at his church by two police officers, maintained his defiant stance.
"We have not broken any law. We will not break any law," Spell said. "We will continue to have church," he continued. "This is a government overreach. They are asking us as a government to stop practicing our freedom of religion. And we have a mandate from God to assemble and to gather together and to keep doing what we're doing." As of Tuesday afternoon Louisiana had recorded more than 5,200 cases of coronavirus and 239 deaths, by CNN's count. Since President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, most churches, mosques, synagogues and temples have temporarily shut down. But there have been a few outliers. On Monday, Florida sheriff's deputies arrested another Pentecostal pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, who has likewise continued to host large services at his megachurch in Tampa despite public orders urging residents to stay home. Howard-Browne's attorney says the church abided by social distancing guidelines and accused local lawmakers with infringing upon his religious liberty. Spell said his Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana, drew about 1,000 people to its services on March 22, in part by busing people in from across five parishes. He also has been holding services at the church on Tuesdays.
Spell has told CNN he believes the pandemic is "politically motivated."

Washington — The captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sent an urgent memo to the Navy on Monday asking for help in addressing the spread of the coronavirus among his ship's crew. Captain Brett Crozier wrote that "[d]ecisive action is required now" to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and "prevent tragic outcomes." In a four-page unaddressed letter, Crozier suggested most of the 4,000 crew members should be removed from the ship and put into 14-day individual quarantines, in keeping with the CDC's recommended guidelines for preventing infection. Ten percent would stay onboard to sanitize the carrier and run the reactor, which he called a "necessary risk." In peacetime, he argued it was the right thing to do. "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," he wrote. "If we do not act now, we are failing to take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors." The commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral John Aquilino, told reporters Tuesday night that it is "impossible" to take all the sailors off the ship because a residual force needs to stay on at all times to monitor the nuclear reactors and be prepared to fight fires or deal with other accidents on the ship. which is loaded with aircraft, fuel and weapons. The crew will be rotated off into quarantine or isolation depending on the results of a coronavirus test. He said it will not happen at the pace the captain wants, in part because of the problem of finding isolation quarters on Guam, where the ship is currently docked.  

By Nicholas Wu - USA TODAY

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, said Tuesday on NPR's Morning Edition that President Donald Trump was incorrect in saying coronavirus testing problems had been resolved. "Yeah, that's just not true. I mean I know that they've taken some steps to create new tests, but they're not actually produced and distributed out to the states." Hogan said, when host Rachel Martin asked him about Trump's assertions. "No state has enough testing."  In a coronavirus task force briefing Monday, Trump said America's coronavirus testing was better "than any country in the world."  "We have done more tests, by far, than any country in the world, by far. Our testing is also better than any country in the world," Trump said on Monday. "We have built an incredible system to the fact we have now done more tests than any other country in the world and now the technology is really booming," Trump said.

By Michael HiltzikBusiness Columnist

Even faster than Congress came together to pass its $2-trillion coronavirus bailout bill, President Trump signaled his intention to interfere with one of its most important provisions — public oversight of how the money gets doled out to big business. In signing the bill late Friday, Trump stated that he considered several oversight provisions of the bill to exceed congressional authority — in fact, to represent “impermissible...congressional aggrandizement.” They include provisions requiring that the chief bailout overseer, the special inspector general for pandemic recovery, or SIGPR, inform Congress “without delay” if executive branch departments “unreasonably” refuse the overseer’s request for information.

   With $2 trillion in federal spending, oversight is not an elective; it’s an imperative. - Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine

“My administration,” Trump wrote in a signing statement issued after he ceremonially signed the bill, “will not treat ... this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress” without presidential approval. Trump’s statement thus signals that he’ll feel free to order executive branch departments not to cooperate with the inspector general. Looking ahead, that could set up a new round of conflicts between Congress and the White House over lawmakers’ demands for information, similar to the conflicts that arose over their demands for information relevant to the impeachment inquiry. This raises the question, even before the first dollar is spent on the $500-billion business bailout in the measure, of what Trump expects to need hiding. Most important, it undermines a crucial element of the bailout. As we’ve reported, congressional and public oversight of the spending is necessary to make sure that the bailout serves its purposes. “If you’re going to distribute the money without conditions attached ... your policy goals are not going to be achieved,” Neil M. Barofsky, who oversaw the spending from the 2008 bank bailout, told me. The bill that emerged from Congress and that Trump signed seemed to avoid that pitfall. But with the stroke of a pen, Trump opened the way to finagling, waste and grifting. Borofsky called Trump’s statement “potentially problematic.”

President’s press event features leaders from Honeywell, Procter & Gamble, and MyPillow as US cases climb
David Smith in Washington

Donald Trump was accused on Monday of turning his daily White House coronavirus briefing into an advertising spot for corporate allies, even as the number of US cases topped 160,000. The president paraded several company leaders in the White House Rose Garden, starting with Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, who has become a regular cheerleader for Trump at his campaign rallies. Trump praised companies for doing their “patriotic duty” by producing or donating medical equipment to meet America’s most urgent needs. “What they’re doing is incredible,” he said. “These are great companies.” He went on to invite Lindell, Darius Adamczyk of Honeywell, Debra Waller of Jockey International, David Taylor of Procter & Gamble and Greg Hayes of United Technologies to make short speeches. He introduced Lindell as a “friend” and riffed: “Boy, do you sell those pillows, it’s unbelievable what you do.” Lindell then stood at the presidential podium and said his company has dedicated 75% of its manufacturing to producing cotton face masks. “By Friday I want to be up to 50,000 a day,” he said, going on to thank Trump for his “call to action”. Then, in a bizarre gear change, Lindell went into campaign rally mode and referenced the date of Trump’s election. “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” he said. “God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God. “I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the word, read our Bibles and spend time with our families.” Lindell added: “Our president gave us so much hope when just a few short months ago we had the best economy, the lower unemployment and wages going up. It was amazing ... We will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever.” Trump told reporters: “I did not know he was going to do that, but he’s a friend of mine and I do appreciate it. Thank you, Mike.”

Employees at a Staten Island warehouse called on Amazon to better protect workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The company says it’s already doing so.
By Nick Visser

Amazon fired an employee who helped organize a walkout at one of its fulfillment centers over the company’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on Monday. Chris Smalls, the employee who helped organize the demonstration, said he felt Amazon had failed to enact adequate measures to protect workers at the facility as many Americans turn to online shopping as stay-at-home mandates expand around the country. Smalls was one of a small group who walked out at a fulfillment center on Staten Island, demanding the company close the site and sanitize it before reopening. He said Amazon had notified employees at the warehouse of one confirmed case of the virus but claimed there were several others that hadn’t yet been reported. Shortly after the strike, Smalls was terminated after working at Amazon for five years. “Amazon would rather fire workers than face up to its total failure to do what it should to keep us, our families, and our communities safe,” Smalls said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “I am outraged and disappointed, but I’m not shocked. As usual, Amazon would rather sweep a problem under the rug than act to keep workers and working communities safe.”

Once again, the president is using aid to extort re-election help.
By Michelle Goldberg

Last December, during a congressional hearing on impeachment, the Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan tried to explain the gravity of Donald Trump’s Ukraine quid pro quo by making a domestic analogy. Members of Congress, she said, should imagine living in a state “prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding.” What would they think, she asked, if their governor requested a meeting with the president to talk about disaster assistance, and he replied, “I would like you to do us a favor”? Karlan seemed to assume that the grotesquerie of this hypothetical would be obvious. Now, with American life upended by coronavirus, her flagrantly corrupt scenario has come close to reality. True, Trump is not demanding that governors investigate Joe Biden in exchange for federal help. But he’s strongly suggested that if governors speak candidly about his monumental incompetence, he’ll penalize them and their states as they struggle to contain the coronavirus. Once again, he’s using his control of vital aid to extort assistance with his re-election. “There are a lot of parallels between the president’s behavior now and during the whole Ukraine scandal,” Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who led Trump’s impeachment prosecution, told me. “Certainly the most apparent is his demand that the governors basically pay fealty to him, praise him, or they’ll suffer consequences.” At a news conference last week, Trump said that he had instructed Vice President Mike Pence, whom he has placed in charge of the coronavirus response, not to call the governors of some blue states where the pandemic is raging. “I say: ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’” he said, adding, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.” “The woman in Michigan,” of course, is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose state has one of the nation’s most brutal coronavirus outbreaks. Trump’s contempt for Whitmer isn’t surprising, given his well-documented disdain for female leaders. As he weighed a federal disaster declaration for Michigan, he told Sean Hannity, “We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor from — you know who I’m talking about — from Michigan. We can’t — we don’t like to see the complaints.”

Now part of the long list of women the president has insulted: a governor, a reporter, the head of General Motors and, of course, the House speaker.
By Annie Karni

WASHINGTON — As he confronts a global pandemic, President Trump’s attention has also been directed at a more familiar foe: those he feels are challenging him, and particularly women. “Always a mess with Mary B.,” Mr. Trump tweeted last week, attacking the female chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, as he accused the company of dragging its feet on producing ventilators. “As usual with ‘this’ General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” he wrote, “this” G.M. apparently referring to the one led by the first female chief executive of an American auto manufacturer. At least he mentioned Ms. Barra by name. When it came to Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s Democratic governor, who delivered her party’s official response to his State of the Union address earlier this year and has been pushing for a national emergency declaration in her state, Mr. Trump did not acknowledge her by name. “We’ve had a big problem with the young, a woman governor,” he said in an interview last week with Sean Hannity, the Fox News host. “You know who I’m talking about, from Michigan.” The president dismissed Ms. Whitmer, who has been pressing the federal government to provide more medical equipment to her state, noting that she was a new governor and it had “not been pleasant.” In a tweet, he later referred to her as “Gretchen ‘Half’ Whitmer,” saying “she doesn’t have a clue.” Ms. Whitmer, whom White House officials have privately criticized for showing her inexperience on the group conference calls with the president, has been relatively measured in her public criticisms of Mr. Trump. In interviews, she said Michigan was not receiving “clear directives and guidance” from Washington, and that the federal government told her that if the state needed supplies, “we needed to go it ourselves.” On the calls, officials said, she has been corrected by Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, about what waivers she had already been granted by the federal government. At his news conference on Friday, Mr. Trump said he had directed Vice President Mike Pence to cut off communication with Ms. Whitmer, again without using her name. He said he told Mr. Pence, “‘Don’t call the woman in Michigan,’” Mr. Trump said at his news conference. “I say, if they don’t treat you right, don’t call.” But Tiffany Brown, Ms. Whitmer’s spokeswoman, said the governor was committed to maintaining a functional relationship with the federal government — even if that no longer included Mr. Trump. “Governor Whitmer has and will continue to have conversations with the Vice President and the head of FEMA,” Ms. Brown said in a statement.

Rodney Howard-Browne has been an outspoken opponent of social distancing requirements, claiming his church has machines that can stop the coronavirus.
By Will Sommer, Tracy Connor

A controversial Florida pastor who refused to stop holding packed church services, in violation of coronavirus restrictions, was arrested Monday by a local sheriff who said he was putting his followers’ lives at risk. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was booked on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules after flouting social distancing orders at The River at Tampa Bay church. Howard-Browne—an ally of President Donald Trump—has been an outspoken opponent of social distancing requirements, claiming his church has machines that can stop the coronavirus and vowing to personally cure the state of Florida himself. “His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk, and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week, in danger,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at the press conference. Howard-Browne did not respond to an immediate request for comment. He turned himself in to a neighboring sheriff’s office, was booked and released within 40 minutes, according to jail records. Chronister’s office warned Howard-Browne that his busy services violated a county order against gatherings of more than 10 people. Deputies for Chronister, a Republican, set up an electronic sign outside the church on Sunday urging parishioners to stay six feet apart from each other, the Tampa Bay Times reported. But Howard-Browne went ahead with two services, even offering to bus people to the church. At services on March 15, Howard-Browne encouraged his parishioners to shake hands to show they weren’t afraid of contracting the coronavirus and vowed his church “will never close.”

By Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam, CNN

(CNN) On two occasions during Sunday's coronavirus briefing, President Donald Trump falsely denied he had said words he had said publicly last week.
When PBS's Yamiche Alcindor noted that the President had said he did not believe that governors actually need all the equipment they claimed they did, Trump said, "I didn't say that" — even though he said precisely that on Fox News on Thursday. Later, when CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond noted that Trump had said he wanted governors to be "appreciative" of him, and that "if they don't treat you right, I don't call," Trump said, "But I didn't say that" — even though he said precisely that at the Friday briefing. Here's a closer look.

What Trump said about governors and equipment
Trump falsely denied that he claimed governors from certain states are asking for equipment they don't need. At Sunday's briefing, Alcindor, Newshour's White House Correspondent, asked the President whether he felt his comments and belief "that some of the equipment that governors are requesting they don't actually need" would have an impact on the federal distribution of ventilators and other medical resources. As Alcindor attempted to finish her question, the President interjected, "I didn't say that," before going on to say it wouldn't have an impact. Facts First: He did say that. On March 26 during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said, "a lot of equipment's being asked for that I don't think they'll need" specifically in reference to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and following a tirade against Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Trump later said he felt Cuomo was requesting an unnecessary number of ventilators. "I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be," Trump said. "I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators." When Alcindor noted that she was quoting from the President's interview with Hannity, Trump said: "Take a look at my interview. What I want to do is if there is something wrong, we have to get to the bottom of it."

What Trump said about his dealings with governors
CNN's Jeremy Diamond began a question to Trump as follows: "I'd also like to ask you about some comments you made on Friday. You were talking about governors of different states and you said, 'I want them to be appreciative.' You also said, 'if they don't treat you right, I don't call.'" After Diamond said the words "if they don't treat you right," Trump said, "But I didn't say that." When Diamond finished the sentence, Trump said "I didn't say that" once more. Facts First: Trump did say what he claimed he didn't. As Diamond told Trump, Diamond was reading direct quotes from Trump's Friday briefing. Trump went on to argue Sunday that he was being taken out of context, noting that on Friday he had also said of his "I want them to be appreciative" comment, that he was talking about people other than himself. Trump had said Friday: "I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about Mike Pence, the task force; I'm talking about FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers." Trump is within his rights to urge media outlets to play the full clip, but those additional comments do not change the fact that he had said exactly what Diamond said he did. Trump also said Sunday: "I don't call the governor of Washington now, but Mike Pence calls, and the head of FEMA calls; I don't stop them. Did I ever ask you to do anything negative, Mike, to Washington?" We don't know for sure what Trump might have told Pence in private, but Trump explicitly said Friday that he had indeed tried to get Pence not to call the governors of Washington and Michigan. Trump said Friday: "He calls all the governors. I tell him — I mean, I'm a different type of person — I say, 'Mike, don't call the governor of Washington. You're wasting your time with him. Don't call the woman in Michigan.'" When a reporter pressed Trump on Friday about whether he really doesn't want Pence to call the governor of Washington, Trump confirmed — but said that Pence, a "different type of person," will "call quietly anyway."

By David Shortell, Evan Perez, Jeremy Herb and Kara Scannell, CNN

(CNN) The Justice Department has started to probe a series of stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of the sharp market downturn stemming from the spread of coronavirus, according to two people familiar with the matter. The inquiry, which is still in its early stages and being done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has so far included outreach from the FBI to at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr, seeking information about the trades, according to one of the sources. Public scrutiny of the lawmakers' market activity has centered on whether members of Congress sought to profit from the information they obtained in non-public briefings about the virus epidemic. Burr, the North Carolina Republican who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has previously said that he relied only on public news reports as he decided to sell between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13. Earlier this month, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the trades given "the assumption many could make in hindsight," he said at the time. There's no indication that any of the sales, including Burr's, broke any laws or ran afoul of Senate rules. But the sales have come under fire after senators received closed-door briefings about the virus over the past several weeks — before the market began trending downward. It is routine for the FBI and SEC to review stock trades when there is public question about their propriety. In a statement Sunday to CNN, Alice Fisher, a lawyer for Burr, said that the senator "welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate." "The law is clear that any American -- including a Senator -- may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did. When this issue arose, Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry," said Fisher, who led the Justice Department's criminal division under former President George W. Bush.

By Lauren Thomas

U.S. mall owner Taubman is telling its tenants that they must pay rent amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a memo dated March 25, which was obtained by CNBC, the real estate investment trust said it still has its own obligations to meet — such as paying lenders on mortgages and paying for utilities. “The rental income that we receive from tenants is essential in order to meet these obligations,” Taubman said. “All tenants will be expected to meet their lease obligations.” Notably, earlier this week, national restaurant chain The Cheesecake Factory said it will not be paying rent in April, as its shops remain shut to the public because of COVID-19. It has 294 locations across North America, many of which are in enclosed shopping malls. Cheesecake Factory also is furloughing roughly 41,000 hourly workers. “We are in various stages of discussions with our landlords regarding ongoing rent obligations, including the potential deferral, abatement and/or restructuring of rent otherwise payable during the period of the COVID-19 related closure,” Cheesecake Factory said in an SEC filing.

By Jon Passantino, CNN

(CNN) The National Rifle Association and other gun owner groups are suing California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials after gun stores were deemed non-essential businesses and ordered to close during a statewide stay-at-home order to curb coronavirus infections. The lawsuit seeks to have gun stores declared essential businesses. It was filed Friday by the NRA, a Los Angeles-area gun retailer, and other gun owner groups in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. In addition to Newsom, other defendants listed in the suit include California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, and Los Angeles County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer. The suit came after Villanueva announced Thursday that due to Newsom's executive order, all gun and ammunition stores in Los Angeles County are not considered essential businesses and must close to the general public. "There are hundreds of businesses which, through no fault of their own, do not fall under the governor's definition of critical infrastructure," Villanueva said this week. "As a result, I have instructed my deputies to enforce closures of businesses which have disregarded the governor's order (gun stores, strip clubs, and other non-designated businesses)." Newsom's order allows grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and other businesses to remain open during the stay-at-home order, but forces the closure of others considered non-essential. The lawsuit filed by the NRA and other gun owner groups claims the executive order violates gun owners of their Second Amendment rights. "The circumstances posed by the Novel Coronavirus ("COVID-19") outbreak are noteworthy, but do not excuse unlawful government infringements upon freedom," the suit says.

By Brandon G. Jones

A company in Austin, Texas is on the lookout to dock pay from employees who receive government stimulus checks, in accordance to an anonymous personnel. With the historic $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus deal signed, Individuals can search forward to receiving some financial aid through the pandemic. An unnamed organization in Texas, however, seems to be on the lookout to use the stimulus to ease their payroll pressure. On Wednesday, the firm sent out a variety titled “Employee Acknowledgement of ‘Government Assistance’ Pay back Reduction.” The form was claimed by an worker who wished to continue being anonymous, but the staff spoke to area news KXAN about the predicament. “The form states they are preemptively deducting funds from our paychecks. That amount is primarily based on what they’re anticipating the federal government relief fund to be,” the employee told the outlet. “The company that I work for is a national firm and they make hundreds of thousands and thousands of pounds in earnings a calendar year and alternatively of making sacrifices at the greater levels, they’re passing it on down to everyone else.” - We are not sure how true it is or if they can even do that, but that would be really low if they did. If you work for a company like that, you should be looking for a new job.

Donald Trump arrives to speak the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House last Saturday. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
The president was aware of the danger from the coronavirus – but a lack of leadership has created an emergency of epic proportions
by Ed Pilkington and Tom McCarthy in New York

When the definitive history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, the date 20 January 2020 is certain to feature prominently. It was on that day that a 35-year-old man in Washington state, recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, became the first person in the US to be diagnosed with the virus. On the very same day, 5,000 miles away in Asia, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea. The confluence was striking, but there the similarities ended. In the two months since that fateful day, the responses to coronavirus displayed by the US and South Korea have been polar opposites. One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis. The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader, and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions. Within a week of its first confirmed case, South Korea’s disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to the medical equivalent of a war-planning summit and told them to develop a test for the virus at lightning speed. A week after that, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease. Some 357,896 tests later, the country has more or less won the coronavirus war. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than 50 million. The US response tells a different story. Two days after the first diagnosis in Washington state, Donald Trump went on air on CNBC and bragged: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

‘A fiasco of incredible proportions’
A week after that, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article by two former top health policy officials within the Trump administration under the headline Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb laid out a menu of what had to be done instantly to avert a massive health disaster. Top of their to-do list: work with private industry to develop an “easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic test” – in other words, just what South Korea was doing. It was not until 29 February, more than a month after the Journal article and almost six weeks after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country that the Trump administration put that advice into practice. Laboratories and hospitals would finally be allowed to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process. Today, 86,012 cases have been confirmed in the US, pushing the nation to the top of the world’s coronavirus league table. Those missing four to six weeks are likely to go down in the definitive history as a cautionary tale of the potentially devastating consequences of failed political leadership. Today, 86,012 cases have been confirmed across the US, pushing the nation to the top of the world’s coronavirus league table – above even China. More than a quarter of those cases are in New York City, now a global center of the coronavirus pandemic, with New Orleans also raising alarm. Nationally, 1,301 people have died. Most worryingly, the curve of cases continues to rise precipitously, with no sign of the plateau that has spared South Korea. “The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort,” Ron Klain, who spearheaded the fight against Ebola in 2014, told a Georgetown university panel recently. “What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.”

Public health experts have criticized the idea of instituting statewide quarantines in “hot spots” like New York.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force unanimously shunned President Donald Trump’s suggestion of a quarantine in the New York City area, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday. The president “did very seriously consider” the idea of locking down the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” But Trump was dissuaded after a meeting with the task force led by Vice President Mike Pence. “The president wanted to consider all the options. He was obviously concerned what was going on with New York,” said Mnuchin, who is a member of the task force. “He spoke to the task force, he spoke to the governors, and he was comfortable that people would take this advisory very seriously and would not travel.” The president had floated the idea of a short-term quarantine on Saturday. But he retreated later, instead tweeting that “a full quarantine will not be necessary” and, instead, embraced a new travel advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All three of the states mentioned in the CDC’s advisory already have issued their own travel restrictions. Public health experts have criticized the idea of instituting statewide quarantines in “hot spots” like New York, warning the U.S. is past trying to contain the virus to geographic regions.

By Chandelis Duster, CNN

Washington (CNN) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday criticized President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying "his denial at the beginning was deadly" and that as he "fiddles, people are dying." "We should be taking every precaution. What the President, his denial at the beginning was deadly," Pelosi said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Jake Tapper. Pelosi added, "As the President fiddles, people are dying. We just have to take every precaution." After the number of reported coronavirus deaths in the US doubled to more than 2,000 within two days, officials are advising residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut not to travel domestically.

Conservatives, business groups and politicians urge president to get economy going as outbreak continues
By Victoria Bekiempis

As Donald Trump has pushed his shock policy reversal to try to soon get many Americans to go back to work, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, he has been supported by a wide array of rightwing figures, business groups and conservative politicians. Some of those conservatives have taken the president’s concerns over the dire health of the US economy a step further – suggesting that the inevitable deaths of many people to the virus might be an acceptable cost of doing business in the face of a shocking economic collapse that saw more than 3 million new people register for unemployment. “My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, said last week on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. “Don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick continued. Patrick even suggested many older Americans would happily risk their lives for the sake of the economy. “No one reached out to me and said: ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” Patrick also said. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in. That doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that, I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me.” The extreme rightwing media figure Glenn Beck shared the sentiment. “I would rather have my children stay home and all of us who are over 50 go in and keep this economy going and working, even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country. ’Cause it’s not the economy that’s dying, it’s the country,” Beck said on an episode of his program on Blaze TV. The Republican Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson also questioned whether the economic impact of physical distancing was worth it, appearing to rate the coronavirus threat as less than fatal car accidents. “We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu.” Johnson also said “getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4% of our population, [and] I think probably far less”.

By Dailymail.com Reporter

Government officials across the United States are using cellphones of millions in the country to get a better understanding of how the virus is spreading. The federal government through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local governments have started reviewing data about the presence and movement of people from certain geographic areas using cellphone data. The data comes from the mobile advertising industry, people familiar with the matter explained to the Wall Street Journal. Approximately 500 cities could eventually be monitored in a portal that will be accessible by federal, state and local officials to help implement epidemic response. Void from the data is sensitive data like cellphone user's name. The goal of the portal would be to help officials learn how COVID-19 is spreading across the United States. It would show which destinations are still being frequented by large crowds that could help spread the coronavirus, people familiar with the matter explained. For instance, one source shared that researchers learned that a huge number of New Yorkers had been visiting Brooklyn's Prospect Part and handed the information over to authorities. Parks have been posted with advisory warnings but they have not been closed across the city. The data would also potentially show how much the general public is complying with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, according to experts familiar with the matter.

By Billy Bambrough

It's been an historic week for the U.S. with president Donald Trump signing a record $2.2 trillion coronavirus-induced emergency stimulus package. The massive cross-party rescue deal is designed to help Americans and businesses cope with the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. dollar has taken a beating, however, dropping almost 4% against a basket of currencies this week—its biggest weekly loss since the height of the global financial crisis over 10 years ago. This week's losses come on the back of the dollar index's biggest weekly gain since the financial crisis, with the dollar surging as investors scrambled for the world’s most liquid currency amid crashing stock and debt markets. "In short-term, huge dollar demand because short-covering, but it won't last," Wall Street veteran and founder of Wyoming-based crypto bank Avanti, Caitlin Long, said via Twitter, adding she expects the U.S. Federal Reserve's balance sheet to top $10 trillion before the coronavirus crisis is over and predicting the dollar's eventual crash. On top the of the massive economic aid package, the Fed has been working hard to prop up plunging markets—with mixed results despite its shock-and-awe firepower. Potential risks of the combined cross-party rescue bill and Fed's biggest-ever bazooka include out-of-control inflation, the dollar's displacement as the world's funding currency, and the complete destabilization of the U.S. financial system. The Fed has pumped over $1 trillion to the system in recent weeks, with its chair Jerome Powell promising never before seen levels of money printing and so-called quantitative easing to infinity through an unlimited bond-buying program.

The administration says it won’t provide documentation for audits into $500 billion in corporate bailout funds.
By Anya van Wagtendonk

President Donald Trump said on Friday that he will not adhere to a portion of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill that would authorize an inspector general to oversee how $500 billion in business loans will be spent. In a statement released early Friday evening, Trump announced that he had signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act, a relief package aimed at mitigating some of the economic fallout caused by efforts to allay the spread of Covid-19. That bill also establishes a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) within the Treasury Department to audit and investigate half a trillion dollars in loans for large businesses. In his signing statement, Trump said that this provision raises “constitutional concerns,” adding that his administration would not comply with such an official’s request for documents. “I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause,” part of Article II Section 3 of the Constitution that states a sitting president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” This seems to suggest the administration believes it is the president’s duty and not that of an inspector general to ensure the funds are distributed as the law intends. The special inspector general, as authorized within the bill, would be able to request information from government agencies and report on failures to comply with those information requests. In his signing statement, Trump essentially stated that he will not let such reports reach Congress without his approval, which many fear directly undermines the provision’s goal of maintaining transparency in how that fund is handled.

By Tara Subramaniam and Daniel Dale, CNN

(CNN) Inaccuracies about the stock market. Baffling statements about a closed GM plant. Stating you can call coronavirus the flu. President Donald Trump on Friday continued the false and misleading claims that have become a part of White House briefings on coronavirus, wrapping up a week in which the number of confirmed cases across the country topped 100,000. We are still combing through the transcript, but here is the developing roundup:

The real state of the stock market 22 days ago
Trump claimed that 22 days ago, "everything was going beautifully" before the US got hit by what he calls "the invisible enemy." He said, "22 days ago we had the greatest economy in the world, everything was going beautifully, the stock market hit an all-time high"

Facts First: While the market had previously set all-time records under Trump, on March 5, 22 days before Trump's comments, the Dow dropped 3.6% or 970 points, then its fifth-worst single-day point drop on record, adding to a 3,000-point drop since its peak on February 12. That day's fall in the Dow followed drops of 1,000 points and 800 points earlier that week.

How unforeseen the coronavirus crisis was
Multiple times throughout Friday's press briefing, the President claimed the current situation was unprecedented and unforeseen. According to Trump, "nobody was prepared for this," not even past presidents. He added, "In all fairness to all of the former presidents, none of them ever thought a thing like this could happen."

Facts First: This is false. The US intelligence community and public health experts had warned for years that the country was at risk from a pandemic. Experts had also warned that the country would face shortages of critical medical equipment, such as ventilators, if a pandemic occurred.
You can read a full fact check here about some of the pandemic warnings. You can read a full fact check here about warnings about the need for additional ventilators in a pandemic.

By John Culhane

The public health crisis created by the novel coronavirus has spun off myriad related problems—most notably, the accelerating collapse of the national economy. One story that’s not gotten the attention it deserves, though, is what will happen to those who acted irresponsibly during this challenging period. After we’re past the crisis stage of this pandemic, we could see a flurry of court cases on behalf of those sickened or killed through exposures that could have been avoided. To take one dramatic example: What if, for instance, an employer places workers at risk of infection by ordering them to work on-site when there are other, safer alternatives available? Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, may find himself an unwilling participant in answering that question. In contrast to the approach taken by most universities—send everyone home and move to an online program—Falwell has “welcomed” students returning from spring break and initially told the faculty to return to campus unless they had a sound medical reason to stay away. Although they will now teach online rather than in front of classes, many instructors remain on campus. Those who do, of course, might need to travel to and from their offices, in apparent defiance of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s order for nonessential businesses to shut down. Falwell and those who follow a similar path have set themselves up for possible negligence lawsuits. Placing people in a dangerous position is the kind of careless—even reckless—behavior that fills first-year torts casebooks. Universities can be liable for failing to safeguard the health and safety of their students and for coercing their employees (faculty and staff) to assume needless risks. While the risk of COVID-19 infection is unavoidable for hospital employees during this pandemic (even if reasonable sanitation measures are followed), there’s no sound reason for a university to defy sensible public health directives by encouraging faculty and students to return to campus. (This is especially true since this return is taking place right after spring break, when it’s a sure thing that at least some students were congregating in massive, unsafe numbers.) Such defiance of public health messaging, as well as the contrary decisions of seemingly all other institutions of higher learning, could add up to compelling evidence of negligent conduct—failing to act like a reasonable person under the circumstances. And a jury that got its hands on such a case might even find that Falwell’s conduct went beyond negligence and was reckless—meaning that it could find that he consciously disregarded a known risk. If so, Falwell and Liberty University could be saddled with punitive damages too, because Virginia, like most states, allows punitive damages for cases involving reckless conduct (but not “mere” negligence). Other employers who present their workers with such choices could be similarly called to account.

The Christian right has long been hostile to science. Now that attitude will make the pandemic much worse
By Amanda Marcotte

Scientists and health experts largely agree on the steps needed to fight COVID-19, the rapidly spreading new coronavirus: Widespread testing, if possible. Widespread and often stringent social distancing protocols in communities where it's taken root, to slow the spread. Hygienic practices like frequent hand-washing and sterilizing commonly touched surfaces. Protective gear, like masks in medical settings, to keep health care professionals from catching it and spreading it. But when it comes to conservative evangelical Christians, who are already hostile to science on many levels, advice from health experts is all too often being treated as something that can be dismissed out of hand, if it threatens the political or theological goals of their movement. To be clear, Christian right leaders aren't denying that coronavirus is a real problem (at least not anymore). If anything, the bevy of snake oil salesman who call themselves ministers sees the panic around the virus as a marketing opportunity to make money from selling dangerous supplements, to declare the virus can be beaten with the power of prayer and to declare that the pandemic is a divine punishment inflicted on sinners. But Christian right leaders are also not about to let medical science supersede their authority, much less get in the way of their quest for power and cold, hard cash. Because of this, the Christian right has become a vector of bad advice, misinformation and dreadful business decisions that are directly threatening the health not just of their followers, but the public at large.

The Republican Senate leader put a provision in the stimulus that expedites FDA approval of a product in his state
By Matthew Chapman

This article originally appeared on Raw Story.

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package contains a number of vital provisions to help the American people. But as with most bills of its size and complexity, it is also loaded with small giveaways to help key senators serve special interests in their states. According to Politico, one of the strangest such provisions, relating to sunscreen, appears to be for the benefit of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "A provision for the FDA to approve 'innovative' sunscreens — that happen to be made in Florence, Ky., by L'Oreal — appeared in the bill, which was steered in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky," reported Caitlin Emma, Jennifer Scholtes, and Theodoric Meyer.

By Alex Daugherty and Emma Dumain

Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott and a group of conservatives erected a roadblock on the swift passage of a massive, $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Wednesday afternoon, arguing that the bill’s increased unemployment benefits will discourage people from working or trying to find a job. Scott, South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, along with Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, objected to the bill’s $600 per week increase in unemployment benefits in addition to benefits currently offered by a worker’s state. The conservative Republicans said unemployment benefits should be capped at a worker’s current income, as opposed to a $600 per week increase that could lead to unemployment being temporarily more lucrative for some workers than keeping their job. Increasing unemployment benefits during a government-induced recession to fight the spread of coronavirus was a major component of the far-reaching legislation that has yet to be finalized — and was in fact included in earlier versions of the bill. “We have a virus and we know people can’t work for a variety of reasons,” Rick Scott said. “We got to help them but at the moment we go back to work, we cannot create an incentive not to work. We cannot be paying people more money on unemployment than they get paid in their job.”

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) As America became the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump downplayed the escalating national crisis. His comments at Thursday's afternoon briefing underscored the growing duality of the fight: While the President is telling a tale of great successes, of a government powerfully mobilizing, front-line health care workers are facing gruesome scenes in hospitals in a growing number of hot spots. Later, ignoring traditional codes of the presidency at a time of trial, the President lashed out in a TV interview at Democratic governors channeling appeals from overwhelmed health care workers in their home states as Covid-19 exacts an increasing toll. And he appeared set on contradicting the advice of one of his top task force members, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told CNN that only the virus can set the timeline for reopening the country. All the evidence of the virus's advance, seen in rising death tolls and infection figures, suggests the situation is getting worse and that normal life could be weeks or months away. Once, Trump minimized the looming impact of the crisis. Now his assessments conflict with the reality of its deadly march. On Thursday, a day that saw more reported deaths from Covid-19 than ever before in the United States -- Trump bizarrely turned the focus to what he said was a far lower mortality rate than he had expected. A week ago, there were a total of 8,800 confirmed infections in the United States and 149 deaths. On Thursday, that figure reached more than 82,000 with nearly 1,200 deaths. Were those figures the result of a hurricane or a terrorist attack, their human toll would be more obvious, and it would be more difficult for the President to spin the situation. But as people die unseen in hospital wards and emergency rooms, the emotional impact of the accelerating tragedy is less obvious than it would be during a natural disaster. Still, the weight of the data is beginning to tell its own story.

By Robert Farley

Hitting back at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pleas for the federal government to provide more ventilators, President Donald Trump misleadingly claimed Cuomo rejected a 2015 recommendation to purchase 15,000 ventilators and instead “established death panels” and “lotteries.” Contrary to the president’s claim, a task force in 2015 did not make a recommendation about purchasing more ventilators. The report — “Ventilator Allocation Guidelines” — provided guidelines for New York hospitals on how they should decide which patients get ventilators in the event of a severe influenza pandemic. But contrary to the president’s claim, the task force did not make a recommendation about purchasing more ventilators. That was outside the scope of the report, Valerie Gutmann Koch, the former senior attorney and special consultant to the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, told us via email. Trump “obviously didn’t read the document he’s citing,” Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, said in a statement to The Hill. “This was a 5 year old advisory task force report, which never recommended the State procure ventilators — it merely referenced that New York wouldn’t be equipped with enough ventilators for a 1918 flu pandemic. No one is, including Mr. Trump.”

The CDC fumbled its communication with public health officials and underestimated the threat of the coronavirus even as it gained a foothold in the United States, according to hundreds of pages of documents ProPublica obtained.
by Caroline Chen, Marshall Allen and Lexi Churchill

On Feb. 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out an email with what the author described as an “URGENT” call for help. The agency was struggling with one of its most important duties: keeping track of Americans suspected of having the novel coronavirus. It had “an ongoing issue” with organizing — and sometimes flat-out losing — forms sent by local agencies about people thought to be infected. The email listed job postings for people who could track or retrieve this paperwork. “Help needed urgently,” the CDC wrote. This email is among hundreds of pages of correspondence between federal and state public health officials obtained by ProPublica through a records request in Nevada. During the period in which the correspondence was written, from January to early March, health officials were trying to stay ahead of the coronavirus outbreak underway in China. By mid-February, when the CDC job postings email went out, the virus had a toehold in the United States, where there were already 15 confirmed cases. In another two weeks, the first case of community transmission would be reported in California, followed shortly by cases in Washington. The documents — mostly emails — provide a behind-the-scenes peek into the messy early stages of the U.S. response to the coronavirus, revealing an antiquated public health system trying to adapt on the fly. What comes through clearly is confusion, as the CDC underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating to local public health officials what should be done.

At least four states have banned most abortions or passed anti-trans legislation.
By Katelyn Burns

A group of anti-abortion activists wants Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to have abortion care providers cease operations during the novel coronavirus pandemic. In a Tuesday letter, signed by the heads of 52 anti-abortion advocacy groups including Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life, and the Family Research Council, the groups called for restrictions on medication and surgical abortion providers in order to “free up much needed medical equipment” and ease an alleged strain on emergency rooms stemming from patients with complications from abortion care. (Complications from abortion care are rare, according to medical research.) But the letter illustrates a broader trend: While many people are seemingly coming together to try to survive the virus — the Senate, for example, unanimously passed a $2 trillion relief package Wednesday — the pandemic hasn’t erased politics entirely. House Democrats, for example, proposed environmental reforms for industries receiving a coronavirus bailout. (The House’s bill has been dropped, however; the chamber plans to vote on the Senate’s version Friday). Meanwhile, social conservatives have taken advantage of the pandemic to further many politically divisive policies, like state-level bans on “elective” abortions, under the guise of protecting the interests of public health. But a closer look at the policy demands being made by anti-abortion conservatives shows that this is just politics as usual. The letter contains five specific demands for HHS during the pandemic: ensuring that emergency response funds are not given to abortion providers, urging abortion providers to cease operations in order to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for treating Covid-19 patients, not expanding telemedicine for medication abortion access, continuing actions to stop mail-order abortion prescriptions, and promoting “medically accurate” information to abortion care patients.

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

The Donald Trump–Fox News feedback loop has been on a terrifying kick this week about how you can’t make the “cure” for the coronavirus pandemic (staying home so you don’t get infected/infect others with a deadly respiratory virus) worse than the disease itself, because having too many people at home harms “the economy,” and so everyone needs to “get back to work” at the end of a 15-day social distancing period, which Trump claims began last week. This is such a shortsighted reading of what’s good for “the economy” that even hard-line Republicans are disagreeing with it. Let’s rank those disagreements from the most to least polite.

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Washington (CNN) Multiple health care workers on Thursday debunked a statement from a White House adviser that the media is overstating the need for personal protective equipment in hospitals amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Their comments come after White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told CNN earlier Thursday the media should "not sensationalize this crisis" when asked about shortages in personal protective equipment. "So please, as you report this crisis, please keep in mind the extent that that is done makes our job here harder," Navarro told CNN's Brianna Keilar. "And it makes the health care professional job harder." Yet health care professionals repeatedly refuted those comments, stressing the dire need for personal protective equipment for front-line medical staff as the outbreak spreads. Speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper later Thursday, Dr. Lisa Dabby, an emergency medicine physician, said, "We appreciate the media's support." "There really needs to be a push right now for production of PPE. We really need to keep our health care workers, our front line, safe and healthy," she said. "People need to realize when they get sick they're going to want somebody to take care of them." "People need know what's happening behind the scenes," she added. Those comments were echoed by Dr. James Phillips, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University and CNN medical analyst, who told Tapper there's "a very significant need across the country" for personal protective equipment. "It's important for the American public to understand, and for the folks in politics to understand as well that we are already receiving guidance from the CDC on how to reuse our PPE. That is a deviation from the standard of care. Normally in what we would call conventional care, we would wear a different mask for every single patient," he said.

By Ted Johnson - Deadline

An NPR station in Seattle said that it no longer will carry live coverage of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus briefings because of concerns that they feature unchecked misleading or false information. “KUOW is monitoring White House briefings for the latest news on the coronavirus — and we will continue to share all news relevant to Washington State with our listeners,” the station tweeted. “However, we will not be airing the briefings live due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time.”

However, we will not be airing the briefings live due to a pattern of false or misleading information provided that cannot be fact checked in real time. (2) — KUOW Public Radio (@KUOW) March 24, 2020

Most recently, Trump has called for lifting of social distancing guidelines in the near future, perhaps by Easter, even though public health professionals are still grappling with the spread of the virus. He also has made false claims about the availability of tests, the timeline for finding a vaccine and the potential benefits of a treatment that includes the ingredient chloroquine. While there is some promising study of its potential use, it has not it has not been approved for treatment. NBC News reported on one Arizona man who died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, and his wife said that they learned about its use after watching a briefing.

By Glenn Kessler and Salvador Rizzo

Over the course of a day, President Trump appeared in a virtual Fox News Town Hall, in a Fox News interview and in the daily coronavirus task force briefing. During the hours before the camera, he mused about packed churches on Easter Sunday, seeking to jawbone the country back to work despite the advice of medical professionals who fear it may be too early to return to normalcy to halt the spread of the virus. Here’s a guide to 11 of Trump’s claims on March 24, most of which were false or misleading. “I had to make a decision: Do I stop people from China and specifically that area, but from China to come into the country? And everybody was against it. Almost everybody, I would say, was just absolutely against it. We’ve never done it before. We never made a decision like that. … It was instinct.” Trump’s recollection — that his “instinct” led him to take action over the advice of “everybody” — conflicts with reporting on the decision-making that led to the administration, effective Feb. 3, to bar foreigners (with many exemptions) from traveling to the United States from China. The New York Times reported the plan was initially recommended by staff from the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Department, and they were soon joined by public health experts. Trump was reluctant at first when the idea was presented to him.

By Philip Ewing

The Justice Department unsealed criminal charges against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and other regime heavies on Thursday in connection with alleged narcoterrorism and drug smuggling into the United States. Attorney General William Barr announced the charges at the Justice Department in Washington with some officials in attendance and others connected via teleconference — precautions taken because of the coronavirus pandemic. The charges involve 15 defendants, including Maduro and other political and military leaders in Venezuela. Venezuela is accused of permitting Colombians linked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — the People's Army, known by its Spanish initials, FARC — to use its airspace to fly cocaine north through Central America to destinations in North America, Barr said. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said the scheme between the Colombians and Venezuelans had been operating for some two decades and represented a deliberate strategy by Maduro's regime to "flood the United States with cocaine." The announcement of the charges followed months of pressure by President Trump's administration on Maduro's regime, which the United States considers illegitimate following an election deemed unfair by many world powers. Washington has supported alternative political leaders in Caracas against Maduro and Trump invited the man he recognizes as Venezuela's leader, Juan Guaidó, to the State of the Union address this year.

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