- While touting his administration’s success in curbing the coronavirus, President Trump said Wednesday that he will not extend social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday.
- At least 30 states have already begun to ease restrictions or plan on doing so by the end of the week, despite the fact that the majority of states do not meet the threshold for reopening under existing White House recommendations.
- Many public health experts warn that it is too soon for states to open back up, noting that on Wednesday the U.S. reported over 60,000 deaths and 1 million confirmed cases.
Trump Touts Accomplishments as Guidelines Expire
President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he will not extend the federal coronavirus social distancing guidelines set to expire Thursday, despite the growing number of confirmed cases and deaths.
The guidelines encouraged Americans to stay home, limit travel, and avoid large gatherings. They were originally set to last for 15 days but were later extended until April 30.
“We think we really have crossed a big boundary, and much better days are ahead,” Trump said Wednesday while speaking at an event with industry executives. “And I often say I see the light at the end of the tunnel, very strongly.”
Trump also repeatedly touted his successes in combatting the virus, at times seemingly speaking as though the pandemic was almost over.
“We did all the right moves,” he added. “If we didn’t do what we did, you would have had a million people die, maybe more, maybe two million people die.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, also echoed that optimistic sentiment while speaking on Fox & Friends Wednesday.
“We’re on the other side of the medical aspect of this, and I think that we’ve achieved all the different milestones that are needed,” Kushner said. “The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story. And I think that that’s really, you know, what needs to be told.”
However, all evidence seems to currently be pointing in the opposite direction.
Trump and Kushner’s respective remarks came on the same day that the U.S. reported over 60,000 deaths from coronavirus. That staggering number, reached in just eight weeks, is now more than the roughly 58,000 Americans killed over the course of two decades in the Vietnam War.
The number of U.S. deaths has reached an amount it was not expected to hit until August, per projections the White House had accepted. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now predicts that the death toll, which data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates is already undercounted as is, will reach 73,000 by August.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. officially reached more than one million confirmed coronavirus cases. Americans now make up nearly one-third of all confirmed cases worldwide.
Despite these jarring milestones, the president repeatedly reiterated his belief that there is no longer a need for federal distancing guidelines.
“They’ll be fading out because now the governors are doing it,” Trump said of the guidelines, firmly placing the onus on the states. “We’ve encouraged the more than 30 states that have taken steps to resume economic activity already.”
The administration also said that the now-defunct guidelines were incorporated into recommendations given to states for easing restrictions and reopening their economies released by the White House two weeks ago.
Experts Worry as States Reopen
But many of the 30 states that have already begun the process of reopening or are planning to do so by the end of this week do not even meet those recommendations.
Among other things, the guidance given to states by the Trump administration includes two key benchmarks that states are encouraged to meet before easing restrictions: increased testing capabilities and a downward trajectory of positive cases.
However, numerous experts and studies have warned that the majority of states have not met either of those thresholds, despite the fact that by this weekend, most states will have at least partially reopened.
According to recent data from the University of Missouri, 25 states and the District of Columbia still have too high a percentage of people testing positive to meet the administration’s criteria for easing restrictions.
Separately, researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute also calculated that only two states, Rhode Island and West Virginia, are conducting enough tests to reopen under the White House guidance.
While the U.S. has significantly increased testing capabilities, with 5.8 million tests conducted as of Wednesday, many health experts say the country needs to be conducting as many as 5 million tests a day for the economy to be safely reopened.
Trump, for his part, has called that recommendation unnecessary and a “media trap.” This week, he said he would help states test at least 2% of their populations each month— a mere fraction of what experts say is needed.
Additionally, a recent study from the Dartmouth Atlas Project found that the virus is spreading quickly in some of the states that have the most expansive and ambitious plans to ease restrictions.
“Five of the top 50 growth rate areas are in Texas, a state that’s pulling back on physical distancing. Two of the highest top 50 growth rate areas are in Georgia,” the study’s leader Dr. Elliott Fisher told CBS.
Georgia has already opened hair salons, restaurants, outdoor spaces, and entertainment centers like bowling allies. Texas’ planned reopenings, which are almost identical to that of Georgia but even more broad, are set to begin Friday.
“The concern is that without adequate testing, we will have to wait for people to report sick in order to detect that the epidemic is surging again,” Fisher said.
“We are very likely to see new or continuing outbreaks in these regions unless we maintain high levels of physical distancing as we do the opening up, which we are not ready to do yet by any stretch of the imagination.”
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (NPR) (Time)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
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)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
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)
More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging
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.
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.