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Three Puerto Rican Officials Fired After Unused Hurricane Maria Aid Found in Warehouse

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  • A video streamed on Facebook Live revealed a warehouse in Puerto Rico stockpiled with unused water, food, medicine, and other emergency supplies from Hurricane Maria.
  • The discovery comes as the island has been rocked by numerous earthquakes, destroying many buildings and leaving thousands without homes.
  • Three officials have been fired over the incident, and protests have broken out calling for the governor to resign.
  • Last week, the Trump Administration released $8.2 billion in aid designated to the island for hurricane recovery after Democrats and Puerto Ricans condemned Trump for withholding the aid over concerns of corruption and mismanagement.  

Aid Discovered 

Three Puerto Rican officials have been fired since a viral video streamed on Facebook Live on Saturday revealed a warehouse containing unused food, water, and other emergency supplies stockpiled from Hurricane Maria.

The video, taken in the southern city of Ponce, was taken by a blogger named Lorenzo Delgado, who filmed himself entering the warehouse. Delgado told reporters that he had been tipped off about the warehouse but did not provide a source.

The live stream quickly prompted massive outrage on social media, and Delgado was soon joined by many others, some of whom took supplies from the warehouse.

Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez quickly responded by firing the island’s director of emergency management, Carlos Acevedo. She then called for an investigation.

Acevedo defended his department and his actions and said that while some of the water in the warehouse had been distributed, the other goods were not needed because there was not a shortage of supplies in the area.

Vázquez, however, said she had not been informed about the warehouse until the viral video, and the next day she also fired Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar.

“They weren’t able to personally tell me specifically where these centers were located, what they contained and whether an inventory was completed,” the governor said Sunday.

But many Puerto Ricans believe that Vázquez is responsible.

Activists on Monday called for island-wide demonstrations calling for the Vázquez to resign. In the capital San Juan, protestors gathered in front of the governor’s mansion.

The recent protests and posts on social media resemble similar protests back in August demanding that then-governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign. 

Those protests started after private messages were leaked that showed the governor and his close advisers mocking ordinary Puerto Ricans, among other things. But the movement quickly morphed into broader protests against government corruption and the botched response to Maria, eventually prompting Rosselló to step down.

Earthquakes

The discovery of the aid in the Ponce warehouse comes as Puerto Rico has been shaken by significant earthquakes and tremors for nearly a month now.

Since December 28, the island has experienced ongoing earthquakes of varying sizes. The biggest was a 6.4 magnitude that hit on Tuesday, Jan. 7, immediately following a 5.8 magnitude quake the day before.

The island was hit again with a 5.9 magnitude on Sunday, Jan. 11.

The earthquakes have created devastation all over the island, causing houses, schools, churches, and other buildings to collapse. Earthquakes of these magnitudes might not cause so much wreckage in other places, but Puerto Rico is riddled with buildings not up to code or retrofitted for earthquake resilience.

As a result, thousands of people have been displaced, with many seeking shelter in government camps. Thousands of others whose houses are still intact have also taken to sleeping in their cars or outside in public areas out of fear that their houses will collapse on them.

These earthquakes are a massive setback for Puerto Ricans, who are still struggling to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

Many of those recovery efforts have been stalled by allegations of government corruption and mismanagement of disaster relief and funding, which in turn has caused levels of distrust in the government among Puerto Ricans, especially as numerous high-ranking officials have been arrested on corruption charges.

This has been the subject of recent tensions between Puerto Rico and the Donald Trump Administration.

Trump has long accused Puerto Rican leaders of corruption, which he has cited for his administration’s efforts to delay disaster aid after Maria.

For a while now, the administration has been criticized for withholding more than $18 billion in federal funding that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designated to the island after Maria.

After the earthquakes, those criticisms were sparked again by both Democrats and Puerto Ricans. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the withholding of aid “illegal,” and others called on the president and HUD to release the aid.

The Trump administration did approve the aid Wednesday, though it also placed strict restrictions on how the aid can be spent. The same day, Trump also approved a major emergency declaration in the areas of Puerto Rico most affected by the earthquakes.

That declaration will allow federal funds to be allocated to the island, though it is unclear how much.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (NBC News)

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

See what others are saying:  (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging

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The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.


GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push

In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.

Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.

Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.

“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.

The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.

Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation

There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.

While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.

“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.

Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.

Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.

Uphill Battle

While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.

Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor. 

As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.

The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not. 

Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant. 

Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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