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Trump Says He Won’t Extend Social Distancing Guidelines

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  • 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.”

Contradictory Evidence

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)

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Josh Hawley Claims Ethics Complaint Against Him Is “Cancel Culture”

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  • Seven Democratic Senators filed an ethics complaint against Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz last week over their efforts in leading objections to the certification of the presidential election.
  • The group urged the Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into whether Cruz and Hawley’s actions inspired violence or if there were any connections between the two Senators, their staffers, and the insurrectionists.
  • Hawley filed a counter-complaint against the seven Democrats Monday, arguing that they were engaging in cancel culture. 
  • “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together,” he wrote.

Ethics Committee Complaints

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) filed a counter-complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Monday alleging that a group of Democratic senators were engaging in “cancel culture” by calling for a recent investigation into his conduct.

Last week, seven Democratic senators, lead by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), filed an ethics complaint against Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) for leading the objection to the certification of the presidential election

In the complaint, the members accused Hawley and Cruz of legitimizing the false claims that prompted the insurrection in the first place and then continuing to “amplify the claims of fraud that they likely knew to be baseless and that had led to violence earlier that day,” by still voting to object.

The letter also noted that both Cruz and Hawley touted their plan to object to the certification as a way to collect more campaign donations. It argued that they continued to do so while the Capitol was literally under siege and even after the insurrection. 

As a result, the seven Democrats urged the Ethics Committee to investigate whether there was any coordination between Hawley, Cruz, or their staffers and the insurrectionists, if they knew about the plans for the Jan. 6 rally, or if they took donations from people and organizations involved.

They also implored the committee to look into whether the actions of the two Senators actions inspired violence or “otherwise engaged in criminal conduct, or unethical or improper behavior.” If any evidence is found, the Democrats recommended the committee take “strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure.”

Hawley Speaks Out

In his counter-complaint, Hawley accused the Democrats of trampling on free speech in an attempt to “cancel” him.

“This line of thinking is, however, sadly consistent with the new woke-mob mentality that you should cancel anyone who disagrees with your views,” he wrote. “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together.”

Hawley also echoed that sentiment in a cover essay published by The New York Post on Monday, where claimed he has been “canceled” and “muzzled” over his attempts to stop the Democratic election of President Joe Biden from being certified.

Both the letter and the article attracted significant backlash online and in the media. In a particularly scathing critique, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon condemned Hawley for claiming he was being censored.

“No one has muzzled Josh Hawley. What happened to Josh Hawley isn’t cancel culture. It’s called consequences,” Lemon said. “That’s how the First Amendment works. Say whatever you want, but you gotta pay the price if you say something stupid, or you do something stupid or treasonous, or if you try to overturn a duly elected president, right?”

“Don’t fall for this, people,” he continued. “Think about the actions in the Capitol. Think about what happened, think about the people who died, think about the cops who were beaten by people. Think about all that.”

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Vox) (CNN)

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Dominion Files $1.3 Billion Defamation Suit Against Rudy Giuliani

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  • Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company, including that the manufacturer led an effort to flip votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
  • The lawsuit alleges Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, spread the disinformation in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast.
  • It also links his false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at a rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.
  • This is the second suit Dominion has filed against a Trump campaign lawyer, and an attorney for the company said it might bring similar cases against pro-Trump media outlets or Trump himself.

Dominion Sues Giuliani

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company.

Dominion, which is one of the largest voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., became the main target for widespread election fraud conspiracies spread by Giuliani and other Trump allies. Those individuals falsely claimed with no evidence that Dominion machines, widely used in key battleground states, were flipping votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.

Now, the company claims that Giuliani and his allies “manufactured and disseminated the Big Lie, which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election.”

The lawsuit alleges that he did this in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast. It notes that Trump’s top lawyer “reportedly demanded $20,000 per day” for his legal services to the president, and arguing that he “cashed in by hosting a podcast where he exploited election falsehoods to market gold coins, supplements, cigars and protection from ‘cyberthieves.’”

The 107-page suit also specifically outlines more than 50 statements Giuliani made on Twitter, his podcast, to the conservative media, and during legislative hearings. Notably, the company points out that he never mentioned Dominion in court where he could face legal ramifications because he knew what he was claiming was false.

Despite that, Giuliani continued to push the false narrative, even after Dominion sent him a letter in December warning they were going to take legal action against him. 

The lawsuit also links Giuliani’s false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at the rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.

According to reports, even after the insurrection, he has still continued to spread those falsities as recently as last week. 

“Dominion’s founder and employees have been harassed and have received death threats, and Dominion has suffered unprecedented and irreparable harm,” the court document states.

Other Defamation Cases

The case against Giuliani is not the first defamation suit Dominion has brought against Trump allies in recent weeks. 

Earlier this month, the company filed a similar claim against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell where it also sought $1.3 billion in damages over her false assertions that Dominion was part of a world-wide communist plot to rig the election.

Separately, one of Dominion’s top executives has also filed lawsuits against Giuliani, the Trump campaign, and several pro-Trump media outlets after he was forced into hiding due to conspiracies that he masterminded the plot to steal the election.

These cases could just be the start. According to NPR, an attorney for Dominion said it was possible that the company would file additional suits against pro-Trump media outlets — such as Fox News — and even potentially Trump himself.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Axios)

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House To Send Impeachment Article Monday, Starting Impeachment Trial Process

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  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the impeachment trial process.
  • The news comes one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
  • The senators could still come to their own agreement to delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs. 
  • Some Democrats have signaled support for this move because it would give them extra time to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominations before the trial starts.

Pelosi To Send Impeachment Article

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday.

The move will officially trigger the start of the impeachment trial process. The announcement comes one day after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.

Despite Pelosi’s decision, the senators still could come to their own agreement to start the ceremonial proceedings but delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.

In fact, Democrats, who have been pushing for a schedule that would allow them to still confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees before the trial proceedings start each day, have signaled that they might not oppose a delay because it would give them extra time for confirmations.

During his announcement this morning, Schumer indicated that the details were still being hashed out.

“I’ve been speaking to the Republican leader about the timing and duration of the trial,” he said. “But make no mistake a trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote on whether to convict the president.” 

McConnell, for his part, responded by reiterating that his party will continue to press for Trump’s team to be given enough time.

“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” he said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense.”

While the leaders may not have worked out the particulars yet, according to reports, both parties have already agreed that this trial will be shorter than Trump’s first impeachment, which lasted three weeks.

Implications for Power-Sharing Deal

The new impeachment trial deadline could also speed up the currently stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell regarding how power will be shared in a Senate with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats effectively control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, but she cannot always be there to resolve every dispute.

As a result, McConnell and Schumer have been working to come up with a power-sharing deal for day to day operations, similar to one that was struck in 2001 the last time the Senate was split 50-50. However, those negotiations have hit a roadblock: the legislative filibuster.

The filibuster is the long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority of at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on a given piece of legislation before moving to a full floor vote. Technically, all 50 Democrats and Vice President Harris could agree to change the rule to just require a simple majority to legislation advance, or what’s known as the “nuclear option.”

That move, in effect, would allow them to get through controversial legislation without any bipartisan support, as long as every Democrat stays within party lines. Many more progressive Democrats have pushed for this move, arguing that the filibuster stands in the way of many of their and Biden’s top priorities.

Given this possibility, McConnell has demanded that Democrats agree to protect the filibuster and promise not to pursue the nuclear option as part of the power-sharing deal. 

But top Democrats have rejected that demand, with many arguing that having the threat of filibuster is necessary to get Republicans to compromise.

In other words: if Republicans fear that Democrats will “go nuclear,” they will be more likely to agree to certain bills and measures to avoid that.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Wall Street Journal)

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