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Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open Despite Outbreaks

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  • President Trump has ordered meatpacking and processing facilities to stay open. 
  • The meat industry has become a hotspot for coronavirus outbreaks, causing many facilities to temporarily shut down and prompting concerns about meat shortages.
  • Meat industry leaders have repeatedly pushed the administration to allow them to stay open, arguing that they are critical infrastructure. On Sunday, Tyson Foods ran a full-page ad in several prominent newspapers that asserted the company’s operations are “as essential as health care.”
  • However, union leaders and meat plant workers slammed Trump’s decision and said that worker protections need to be ensured.

Trump Signs Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday compelling meatpacking and processing plants to stay open, despite growing coronavirus outbreaks in facilities.

Through the order, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to classify the plants as critical infrastructure that must remain open. 

The move comes as meat processing and packing facilities throughout the country have become hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks, sickening thousands and pushing industry giants to shutter operations.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said on Tuesday that at least 20 meatpacking and food processing workers have died of the coronavirus, and more than 6,500 have either tested positive, missed work to self-quarantine, or shown symptoms.

The UFCW also said that 22 plants have closed at some point over the last two months, many at the urging of unions or state and local officials. 

Those closures have already cut into the national meat supply, prompting concerns about meat shortages. Some economists have predicted that consumers could see fewer options starting as early as next month if closures continue at the current rate.

“Such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency,” the executive order states.

“Given the high volume of meat and poultry processed by many facilities, any unnecessary closures can quickly have a large effect on the food supply chain.”

Pressure From Meat Industry

The president’s order is expected to please major meat companies like Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, and JBS USA, which have continually argued that they are essential operations, and resisted closing plants that saw large outbreaks despite pressure from authorities.

In at least two Missouri towns, coronavirus outbreaks in plants spread to the surrounding counties, causing rural communities that host processing facilities to report higher infection rates than major cities in the state.

In South Dakota, an outbreak at one single Smithfield Foods pork processing plant accounted for more than half the number of confirmed cases in the entire state.

But the industry has still put significant pressure on the Trump administration to keep plants open.

On Sunday, Tyson ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette declaring that “the food supply chain is breaking.” 

“We have a responsibility to feed our country,” the ad stated. “It is as essential as health care. This is a challenge that should not be ignored. Our plants must remain operational so that we can supply food to our families in America.”

Unions and Workers Slam Decision

While the executive order seems to be exactly in line with the meat industry’s interests, union leaders were quick to criticize the decision.

In a statement, UFCW President Marc Perrone said the Trump administration must take steps to ensure worker safety, such as providing protective equipment through the federal stockpile, ensuring daily testing for workers and communities, enforcing physical distancing, and giving full paid sick leave.

“While we share the concern over the food supply, today’s executive order to force meatpacking plants to stay open must put the safety of our country’s meatpacking workers first,” Perrone said. “Simply put, we cannot have a secure food supply without the safety of these workers.”

Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, echoed Perrone’s call to put safety first in a tweet, while also condemning Trump’s decision.

“Using executive power to force people back on the job without proper protections is wrong and dangerous,” he wrote.

Other union leaders took even stronger stances against the president’s actions. 

“We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Some workers at meatpacking plants have also said Trump’s executive order indicated that he wanted to sacrifice their health and safety to restart the economy.

“To me it’s just putting more people in danger,” Robert Hope, who worked at the Tyson plant for 25 years, told the Times. “He is not concerned about the people’s life and well-being.”

Liability Issues

However, many experts have said that the new executive order is likely to further endanger worker safety while prioritizing legal protections for the companies.

While speaking to the media on Tuesday, Trump said he would shield meat companies from legal liability that may stem from workers claims that they are not being protected by their employers. The president said the liability risks processors faced from operating during the pandemic were “unfair” to the meat industry.

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued interim guidelines for meatpacking and processing facilities outlining procedures for cleaning shared equipment and providing information for how companies can use barriers to ensure social distancing for workers, who usually work shoulder-to-shoulder.

The guidelines also called for the use of personal protective equipment and changing sick leave policies so workers are not penalized for taking days off because they have the coronavirus. The guidance, however, is voluntary, and it is unclear how many companies will follow. 

Even then, Trump’s new executive order explicitly states that its enforcement “may differ from or be inconsistent with” the new guidance. 

Right now, it is unclear how the executive order addresses worker protections, if at all. The resulting effect will likely be that more meatpacking and processing workers will join some of their peers who have already filed lawsuits alleging their employers did not do enough to protect them.

There are also legal questions as to whether the DPA allows the president to grant businesses blanket immunity from being liable for workers who get sick on the job.

As more states and cities begin to reopen, businesses have been pushing the White House and Congress to ensure that they will not be held liable if a worker or customer gets the coronavirus. According to reports, the issue is set to be discussed during the next round of congressional negotiations.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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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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