- After repeatedly denying that he spoke about former Vice President Joe Biden in a call to the President of Ukraine, Trump backtracked Sunday and said that he had in fact discussed Biden, among other things.
- The call became the center of controversy after the news broke about a whistleblower complaint involving Trump and inappropriate communications with a foreign leader.
- A number of Democrats brought back the discussion of impeachment following the revelations, an idea that Republicans have generally pushed back against.
President Donald Trump is facing renewed calls for impeachment after he admitted Sunday to discussing corruption accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden in a phone call with Ukraine’s president.
The phone call in question is at the center of a whistleblower complaint that has created a whirlwind in Washington and beyond.
Here’s what you need to know.
Origins of Complaint
It all started on Aug. 12, when a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a complaint.
At the time, it was unclear where the whistleblower worked, but The Washington Post has since reported that the person “once worked on the staff of the White House National Security Council.” It is still unclear who that person is specifically.
What we do know is that the complaint was filed with the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG). The ICIG is basically what it sounds like: a watchdog who investigates allegations and complaints of misconduct in the intelligence community.
Right now, the ICIG is Michael Atkinson, a former Justice Department official who was confirmed to the post in 2018 after being nominated by Trump.
The whistleblower filed the complaint with the ICIG under a law called the Intelligence Community Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. That law says that once a misconduct complaint is filed, the ICIG has 14 days to decide if the complaint is both credible and of “urgent concern.” Atkinson determined that it was both.
After that, the law says that the complaint must be sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which Atkinson did. That complaint was then received by the current acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who notably has only held the position since Aug. 8.
Maguire then had seven days, until Sept. 2, to send the full complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees. But he did not send the report.
On Sept. 9, a week after Maguire was supposed to send Congress the complaint, Atkinson sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee to tell them that the complaint existed.
The next day, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of that committee, sent a letter to Maguire demanding he send the complaint and accusing him of breaking the law by not doing so.
Notably, Schiff also indicated in the letter that the committee thought the White House could be interfering in preventing the complaint from being sent to Congress.
The legal counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded to Schiff in another letter a few days later on Sept. 13.
There, they argued that they did not have to turn over the complaint to Congress because they had decided it was not actually an “urgent concern” and because it involved someone outside of the intelligence community.
A second letter from the IC IG to Schiff, dated September 17th. pic.twitter.com/DetBeesIey— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 19, 2019
Schiff responded in yet another letter the same day, where he said the Director of National Intelligence did not have the legal authority to overrule an ICIG decision or withhold it from the congressional intelligence committees.
He noted that this was the first known time a Director of Intelligence overruled the ICIG to withhold a whistleblower complaint.
Also of massive significance in that letter was this excerpt:
“The Committee can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the series misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials.”
That excerpt continued:
“This raises grave concerns that your office, together with the Department of Justice and possibly the White House, are engaged in an unlawful effort to protect the President and conceal from the Committee information related to his possible ‘serious or flagrant’ misconduct, abuse of power, or violation of law.”
Media Discovers Nature of Complaint
That brings us to this past Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that the complaint in question involved Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two foreign intelligence officials who were familiar with the situation.
“Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a ‘promise’ that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community,” the Post stated.
Then on Thursday, it was reported that the people familiar with the complaint said it had to do, at least in part, with Ukraine. The next day, sources said that the complaint had to do with a call between Trump and the newly elected President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky in July.
According to those reports, during that call, Trump had told the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who had served on a board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was U.S. vice president.
Hunter Biden joined that board back in 2014. Two years later, Ukraine’s prosecutor general was removed from his position after receiving pressure from then-VP Biden and others.
That reportedly prompted the Ukrainian prosecutor general to claim he was ousted because he was investigating the gas company’s payments to Hunter Biden. Ukranian officials reported earlier this year they found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The revelation that the whistleblower complaint involved Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden led many to speculate that Trump was using the $250 million of military and intelligence aid the U.S. had promised to give to Ukraine as leverage to get them to do political favors.
Some also noted that the U.S. had withheld that aid until Sept. 12, when the congressional battle over the whistleblower complaint began to heat up. Those theories have not been confirmed.
On Friday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that on the July phone call, Trump “repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, according to people familiar with the matter, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”
Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, who had previously denied asking Ukraine to investigate Biden before admitting he had in fact done so, defended his efforts in a tweet.
Trump Denies Claims
Trump for his part has been very vocal throughout the whole process, often taking to Twitter to deny the allegations and call them fake news.
“Another Fake News story out there – It never ends!” the president tweeted Thursday. “Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.”
The media was able to get a bit more information during a press briefing on Friday.
“It’s a partisan whistler blower. It shouldn’t even have information,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with many leaders they’re always appropriate.”
He also said he did not know what conversation the whistleblower was referring to specifically.
“I had a great conversation with numerous people, I don’t even know exactly who you’re talking about,” he told reporters.
But a little later, he did seem to indicate there was one specific conversation, though he would not answer questions about whether or not he talked about Biden in that conversation.
“I don’t know the identity of the whistleblower, I just hear it’s a partisan person,” he reiterated. “Meaning it comes out from another party, but I don’t have any idea. But I can say that it was a totally appropriate conversation. It was actually a beautiful conversation.”
In that same briefing, a reporter also asked Trump if he had read the complaint.
“No I haven’t,” he responded, before adding, “Everybody’s read it they laugh at it.”
Over the weekend Trump continued to tweet about the situation, notably referring to it as a “Witch Hunt” and continuing to attack the media.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s foreign minister was reportedly quoted telling a Ukrainian news outlet that Ukraine did not feel pressured by the phone call.
“I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure,” he said. “This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on many questions, sometimes requiring serious answers.”
That statement prompted some tweets from Trump on Sunday. He also added that the whistleblower did not have “a first hand account of what was said.”
On Monday, Fox News reported that a person familiar with the complaint told them that the whistleblower did not have “firsthand knowledge.”
Trump continued to defend himself Monday. According to CNN, the president said that “Joe Biden and his son are corrupt.” He also directly denied that he put pressure on Ukraine.
“I did not make a statement that ‘you have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid. I wouldn’t do that,” Trump said. “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. I put no pressure on them whatsoever. I could have. I think it probably, possibly would have been OK if I did.”
Trump Admits He Spoke to Ukraine About Biden
However, later on Sunday, Trump directly said that he did speak about Biden in his phone call with Zelensky.
“We had a great conversation. The conservation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son creating to corruption already in the Ukraine,” the president told reporters.
Trump again addressed the situation later in the day, where he said he would have a right to ask Zelensky to investigate Biden.
The events of the last week have prompted a discussion about impeachment.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has continually resisted impeachment calls in the past, released a statement on Sunday. The statement did not mention impeachment, but still condemned Trump’s actions and hinted at investigations.
“If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” the statement said.
That followed comments the speaker made last week while talking to NPR. In an interview, Pelosi did not call to impeach but instead said that laws should be changed to allow a sitting president to be indicted.
Biden for his part has called for the transcript of the call to be released. Trump told reporters on Sunday that he would “love to” release the transcript, but that others in the administration are “a little shy” about it.
“Let’s be clear, Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to interfere in our elections,” the former vice president wrote on Twitter. “It goes against everything the United States stands for. We must make him a one-term president.”
Other Democrats have taken more firm stances.
“At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior – it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said in a tweet on Saturday.
Similarly, Schiff, who has generally held back from calling for impeachment, said Sunday he now might see it as an option.
“If the President is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that conduct represents,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper when asked if he thought impeachment could be a solution.
However, Republicans remain largely opposed to the idea of impeachment.
“Only 37% of Americans support impeachment,” Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) said on Twitter. “But Democrats continue to waste taxpayer time on impeachment efforts. It’s past time they stop the political games.”
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise said in a tweet that there is “no reason” to impeach.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also ridiculed the idea of impeachment on Twitter.
However, not all Republicans think the situation is so cut and dry.
“If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) wrote on Twitter.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Proposes Strict Crackdown on Violent Protests
- On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called for legislation aimed at cracking down on “violent and disorderly protests,” as well as at withholding state grants and aid from cities with “Defund the Police” measures.
- Under his proposed law, a person could be charged with a felony if they block roadways during a protest held without a permit or if they are part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes injury or damage.
- It also gives protection to drivers who kill or injure others while “fleeing for safety from a mob” and would bar anyone who is convicted under this bill from becoming a state or local government employee.
- Critics of the proposed law say that DeSantis is trying to scare people from using their first amendment rights and argue that the driver clause could actually lead to violence against protesters.
DeSantis’ Proposed Protest Law
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) unveiled a bill on Monday that, if passed, would severely crackdown on protests described as “violent or disorderly.”
Notably, that bill would make it a felony to be part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes property damage or injury to other people and to block traffic during a protest held without a permit. The bill also stipulates that drivers would “NOT be held liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.”
Among those measures, the bill would create a new six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone who strikes a law enforcement officer “during a violent or disorderly assembly.”
That also includes offense enhancements for people who throw objects that hit civilians or law enforcement, for people who assault law enforcement “during a violent or disorderly assembly,” and for people from different states who participate in such assemblies.
On top of that, the bill has a “No ‘Defund the Police’ Permitted” measure, which would prohibit state grants or aid from going to any local government that slashes police department budgets.
It also “waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damage” if that “government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.” Essentially, sovereign immunity refers to the fact that the government cannot be sued without its consent.
Anyone who is convicted of participating in “a violent or disorderly assembly” would additionally be barred from becoming a state or local government employee. Convicted individuals would find their state benefits terminated as well.
Support for the Bill
The bill is a response to nationwide protests where demonstrators have called for racial justice following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Since those protests began, many have called for police departments to be defunded or abolished.
While there have been documented cases of looting and arson, a September report from the U.S. Crisis Project found that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful.
As he announced the bill, DeSantis called it the “boldest and most comprehensive” piece of legislation of its kind.
“If you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it,” he said. “If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks raining down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct.”
DeSantis then went on to criticize cities like New York City, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, Wicsonsin. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department labeled New York City, Portland, and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” That came after President Donald Trump ordered the agency to review federal funding for local governments in cities that have faced violence, vandalism, and looting during protests.
“This proposed legislation gives us tools to separate the peaceful from the violent,” Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell told Politico. “It also establishes the Legislature’s direction that we severely punish those who promote violence through the corruption of these demonstrations.”
Like Campbell, DeSantis has stressed that the bill is aimed only at those who incite violence at protests, not peaceful protesters.
Criticism of the Bill
Still, many have argued that DeSantis is using marginal reports of violence to punish all forms of protest and critics of police misconduct.
Among those, Florida’s incoming House Minority Leader, Evan Jenne (D), said, “Most of this stuff is already illegal. He is just Hell bent on silencing any voice of opposition.”
“None of this is about policy,” Jenne added. “It’s about buoying President Trump, who has slipped precipitously in the polls. It’s dog-whistle base stuff.”
Stephanie Porta, executive director of the progressive group Organize Florida, said, “This is out there to absolutely scare people into not using their constitutional rights for freedom of speech.”
The ACLU of Florida also condemned the bill, and Executive Director Micah Kubic called the proposal “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values.”
“This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” he added in a statement.
Some are also worried that the bill could actually incite violence since it shields drivers that kill or injure people with their vehicles. In fact, several critics have noted that during a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, a counterprotester was hit and killed. That same incident also injured 19 others. The driver of that car later claimed he “felt he was in danger and people were coming at him.”
Where Is the Bill at?
For now, this measure remains simply a proposal.
It will first have the opportunity to be formally introduced in March 2021 when Florida’s next legislative session actually begins. Until then, committees will start the process of crafting the bill’s language and finding sponsors as they meet later this year.
The bill’s language will be critically important. That’s because terms like “mob” and “Defund the police” will have to be strictly defined. For example, “Defund the police” can carry several definitions.
In some cases, it means redirecting money for police departments to other governmental agencies for housing, mental health services, and other social programs. In others, people could use it as a proxy for abolishing whole police departments.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (WESH 2 News) (WPTV 5)
Trump to Make Supreme Court Nomination Friday or Saturday
- President Donald Trump plans to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice on Friday or Saturday, one week after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
- Her death sparked a partisan debate over whether or not her seat should be filled before the election. After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, Republicans set a precedent for what to do when a Justice dies during an election year by demanding that a vote not happen until after the election.
- However, Republicans are now walking back on that, vowing to push a nomination through in the six weeks leading up to the election. Democrats are outraged, calling this hypocrisy and demanding that the vote wait until after votes have been cast.
- Republicans Senators Collins and Lisa Murkowski have said they believe a vote should wait. Democrats need at least two more Republican to express a similar stance Many are waiting to hear from Sen. Mitt Romney and Sen. Chuck Grassley, who some think might flip in this situation.
Trump’s Nomination Plans
President Donald Trump plans to nominate a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday or Saturday after ceremonies honoring her life and legacy have taken place.
Trump has pledged to nominate a woman and there are already several potential candidates being considered. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa are widely understood to be the two favorites.
The president’s choice to go forward with a nomination comes as the Senate Democrats and Republicans are divided on whether or not to move forward with a nomination so close to the election. Ginsburg died at the age of 87 on Friday, just six and a half weeks before Election Day. Following her death, Trump tweeted that Republicans have an obligation to get the ball rolling to fill her seat “without delay.”
Republicans Break Precedent
Many Republican leaders have backed him on this, but Democrats have found their inclination to rush this process hypocritical. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February of 2016 under President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold a hearing on Obama’s nominee because of the upcoming election.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” McConnell said in a statement back in 2016.
McConnell argues that there is a major distinction between 2016 and 2020: Obama was a lame duck president and Trump is up for re-election. He believes that in this case, a replacement should be made, even though the election is looming even closer than when Scalia passed.
“In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term,” McConnell wrote in a statement following Ginsburg’s death. “We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.
McConnell wrote that when a Republican majority was re-elected to the Senate, they vowed to work with Trump and they plan to stand by that. Because of this, he said that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
The debate about whether or not Ginsburg should be replaced before the election has become one of the biggest political fights of the moment. The late justice likely knew the partisan infighting that would come as she left a court vacancy behind her. NPR reported that just days before her death, as her strength was waning, she gave a statement to her granddaughter saying “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Still, McConnell is not the only Republican fighting to break the precedent set by their own party in 2016. After Scalia’s death, Sen.Lindsey Graham said that the new rule going forward should be that during an election year, Supreme Court nominations must wait.
“I want you to use my words against me. If there is a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say ‘Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,’ and you can use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right,” he said at the time.
“We are setting a precedent here today, Republicans are, that in the last year at least of a lame-duck eight-year term, I would say it’s gonna be a four year term, that you’re not going to fill a vacancy of the supreme court based on what we’re doing here today. That’s gonna be the new rule.”
Now, he plans to break that rule. In a series of tweets Saturday, he argued that Democrats have made major changes to the judicial confirmation process, and because of this, he will support Trump’s effort to push a nominee through before the election.
Several other Republicans have also announced their intent to support Trump. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) told Fox News that he believes the situation is urgent because if there is a contested election, having an eight-person court could lead to a “constitutional crisis.”
Democrats Call For Vote to Wait
Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing to have the vote wait until Americans have taken to the polls. Presidential candidate Joe Biden called the Republican effort to jam a nominee through so quickly “constitutional abuse” when speaking on the campaign trail on Sunday.
President Barack Obama also wrote a statement honoring Ginsburg. He asked that her wish for her replacement to wait be honored.
“Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in,” Obama wrote.
“A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment. The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer fought against McConnell’s efforts by tweeting out the same exact statement McConnell made in 2016, asking that a vote wait until after the election. A source also told several outlets that Schumer has said “if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year.”
As far as what that could look like, several prominent Democrats have said that if Republicans push a nomination through, the next Senate should expand the Supreme Court.
Democrats Fight to Get Republicans on Their Side
It’s unclear which party’s efforts will result in victory as much of the potential vote remains up in the air. The Senate, which is the only body responsible for approving the nomination, is currently split 53-47 with a Republican majority.
A total of 51 votes are needed to confirm a nomination, so the Democrats would need at least four Republicans to hop to their side on the matter if they want a chance. As of Monday, two have stated that they oppose holding a vote.
“In order for the American people to have faith in their elected officials, we must act fairly and consistently, no matter which political party is in power,” Senator Susan Collins (R-Me) wrote, explaining she is okay with the Senate reviewing the credentials of a nominee, but not with a confirmation hearing.
“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the president or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) joined Collins in her opposition.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election,” she said in a statement. “Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed.”
Now, many are looking for other potential pathways Democrats could walk down in order to secure another two votes. Some think Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Ut.), the only Republican to vote in favor of impeachment, will join the Democrats. Others have also noted that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) said in 2018 that he would not consider a Supreme Court nomination in 2020.
The Senate race in Colorado could also be impactful. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Co.) is currently in a tight race for his re-election bid against former Governor John Hickenlooper. His choice here could be key when it comes to getting votes. While he has not stated his intentions on the matter, he did say that the country should have time to mourn the loss of Ginsburg before politics start.
Democratic Fundraising Surge
Currently, the American public is fairly split on the issue. According to a poll published on Saturday, 51% do not think Trump should nominate a new justice while 42% say he should. The poll is pretty much split along party lines.
Americans have had a very active response to Ginsburg’s death, particularly Democrats. Many saw her as a pillar holding up Democracy, and now fear that groundbreaking policies like the Affordable Care Act and Roe V. Wade could be in jeopardy without her. Those fears apparently turned into swift motivation.
Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue tweeted on Sunday morning that since the news of her death had broken on Friday, they had received $100 million from small-dollar donors.
The funds are being spread all across the Democratic party. One fund called “Get Mitch or Die Trying” which splits donations across several races aiming to flip Republian seats, saw a huge influx in the hours after she passed.
The fund started the day at $5 million raised. By the end of the day it had raised over $15 million and continued to soar throughout the weekend.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Politico) (New York Times)
Trump Contradicts CDC Director on Vaccine Timeline
- CDC Director Robert Redfield said that because a COVID-19 vaccine would go to first responders and high-risk populations first, the country not start seeing immunity in the general public until the end of next year.
- Redfield also said wearing masks is more effective than a vaccine could be and encouraged people to do so.
- President Trump contradicted Redfield later in the day, saying that he made a mistake and misunderstood both the questions about vaccines and masks.
- Trump said a vaccine will be ready for the entire general public by October and 100 million people would be vaccinated by the end of the year — both a date and a number most experts have said are impossible. He also said the vaccine would be more effective than masks, though he did not provide any evidence for this claim.
- The incident sparked renewed accusations that Trump has been pressuring his health officials and scientists to rush the vaccine timeline so there is an inoculation before Election Day.
President Donald Trump directly contradicted the scientific findings of the health officials in his own administration Wednesday regarding the timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine and the efficacy of face masks.
The president’s remarks came just hours after Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified before a Senate committee. There, he said the American public will likely not see the effects of immunity effects of a vaccine until the middle of next year. He also highlighted the importance of mask-wearing in preventing further spread.
“I think there will be a vaccine that initially be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized,” he said. “If you’re asking me, when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life? I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”
Redfield then went on to clarify that the vaccine will initially go to first responders and people who are at higher risk before being distributed to the wider public, a factor that he said will create a lag between when the vaccine is approved and when we will start seeing measurable public immunity.
“I think we have to assume that if we had a vaccine, say, released today, that it’s going to take us probably in the order of six to nine months to get the American public vaccinated,” he told the Senators. “And in order to have enough of us immunized, so we have immunity, I think it’s going to take us six to nine months.”
Redfield also emphasized the importance of continuing mitigation efforts in the meantime, like hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks.
“Face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have,” he said, encouraging Americans to embrace them. “I’ve said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control.”
“These actually, we have clear, scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” he continued. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
Redfield’s remarks, specifically regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, have been described as by far the most detailed time frame that the leader of the main public health agency has provided in regards to a vaccine and immunity.
Last week, the CDC told health agencies that 2 million vaccine doses might be available by the end of October, with the possibility that there could be 10 to 20 million doses ready available by November and 20 to 30 million by the end of the year.
Those general timelines for both vaccine distribution and immunity put forth by the CDC are also consistent with what other top experts have said, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“It won’t be until we get into 2021 that you’ll have hundreds of millions of doses, and just the logistics, constraints in vaccinating large numbers of people,” Fauci told CNN earlier this week. “It’s going to take months to get enough people vaccinated to have an umbrella of immunity over the community so that you don’t have to worry about easy transmission.”
Trump Press Conference
While speaking at his press conference, Trump directly refuted Redfields remarks and provided a very different timeline for vaccine distribution.
“We’re on track to deliver and distribute the vaccine in a very, very safe and effective manner. We think we can start sometime in October,” he said. “So as soon as it is announced, we’ll be able to start. That’ll be from mid-October on. It may be a little bit later than that, but we’ll be all set.”
“We’ll be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020 and a large number much sooner than that,” he added.
When asked if he agreed about Redfield’s timeline, Trump said that he did not, and that he thought the CDC director “made a mistake” in his comments.
“I called him, and he didn’t tell me that, and I think he got the message maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly,” he added.
“We’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced,” Trump continued. “We will start distributing it immediately to the general public.”
“When we go, we go. We’re not looking to say, ‘Gee, in six months, we’re going to start giving it to the general public.’ No, we want to go immediately. No, it was an incorrect statement.”
Many public health officials and experts even beyond Redfield have repeatedly disputed the president’s optimistic vaccine timeline, but Trump’s comments about vaccines are not the only remarks he made at the press conference that run counter to public health advice.
Trump also refuted Redfield’s comments regarding masks being more effective than a vaccine, saying that wearing a face mask is “not more effective, by any means, than a vaccine.”
He continued to say that he spoke to Redfield about his testimony, and again offered the explanation that the CDC director misunderstood the question he was asked and that he made a mistake.
“The mask is not as important as the vaccine,” Trump said, adding that masks have “problems” and are “a mixed bag,” citing waiters at restaurants touching their masks then touching food. Notably, he did not provide any evidence for his claim that a vaccine would be more effective than universal masking.
In Redfield’s explanation of why he believed wearing a mask may be more effective than a vaccine, the CDC director pointed to the fact that a coronavirus vaccine will likely not be fully effective. Very few vaccines are close to 100% effective, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said a coronavirus vaccine will only need to be 50% effective to gain their approval.
Most experts do expect the vaccine to have slightly more efficacy than that, but not by much. By contrast, there is a growing body of evidence that shows masks are highly effective in preventing spread, and if a large majority of the public wore masks, transmission would drop significantly.
It is not unusual for Trump to cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks — despite significant evidence to the contrary — but experts have said it is dangerous to present a COVID-19 vaccine as a cure-all that will mitigate the need for other precautions.
“It is overwhelmingly likely that the first COVID-19 vaccine will not be a silver bullet. Rather, it will be one more weapon against the disease to add to our arsenal,” Mother Jones wrote Wednesday. “It’s like getting dressed for a blizzard, where each intervention—in this case, masks, social distancing, and eventually a vaccine—will work in tandem to protect you.”
Concerns Over Rushed Timeline
Trump’s remarks prompted renewed allegations that he is intentionally rushing to get a vaccine out before Election Day, and that he is pressuring or pressuring his own appointees and scientists to do so.
This is not a new idea at all, just one that Trump added more fuel to. Earlier this month, the CDC told states to begin preparing for a “large-scale” distribution of vaccines by Nov. 1 — just two days before the election.
In August, the head of the Food and Drug Administration also floated the idea of the agency using emergency authority to approve one of the three vaccines in the final stages of testing before clinical trials end.
Both directives prompted numerous people to question whether those decisions were made because of political interference from Trump, and his most recent comments simply bolstered those claims.
While speaking at a townhall event Wednesday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden raised the possibility that Trump is pressuring his health officials to sign off on a COVID-19 vaccine they might not be confident with to get an advantage in the election. He also argued that Trump’s focus on the election calendar when it comes to the vaccine damages his credibility.
“Let me be clear: I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” he said. “And at this moment, the American people can’t either.”
“We can’t allow politics to interfere with the vaccine in any way,” Biden said later that same day. “[Trump] doesn’t have any respect for science. This is the same guy who said, inject bleach. This is the guy who said, if you want to keep hurricanes from getting to the United States, drop a nuclear weapon on them.”
Trump, for his part, has taken up a new strategy when it comes to these allegations. In his press conference Wednesday, he accused Biden of promoting what he called “anti-vaccine theories.”