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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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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

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

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

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

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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