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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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Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event

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The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.


“Where’s Jackie?” 

Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.

The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.

The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.” 

The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.

“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.

“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”

The Age Maximum Question

Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.

Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.

While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.

These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.

There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.

Source: Business Insider

What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.

As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.

Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.

However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.

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

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Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds

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In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.


A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse

More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.

Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.

All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.

“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”

“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.

“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”

Abuses Go Unreported

Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.

Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.

Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.

In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.

In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.

The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)

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Texas AG Ken Paxton Allegedly Flees Official Serving Subpoenas in Truck

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Following the news, a judge granted the attorney general’s request to quash the subpoenas.


Paxton on the Run

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his own home in a truck Monday morning to evade an official trying to serve him a subpoena, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Last month, several nonprofits filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from charging individuals under the state’s abortion ban in cases that happened out of state or prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Two subpoenas were issued summoning Paxton to a Tuesday court hearing, one for his professional title and the other addressed to him personally.

Early on Monday Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, knocked on the front door of Paxton’s home in McKinney and was greeted by Texas state senator Angela Paxton, who is the Attorney General’s wife.

According to the affidavit, Herrera identified himself and informed her that he was delivering court documents to Mr. Paxton. She responded that her husband was on the phone and in a hurry to leave, so Herrera returned to his vehicle and waited for Ken to emerge.

Nearly an hour later, the affidavit states, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, the attorney general stepped out.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name,” Herrera wrote in the affidavit. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage.”

Shortly afterward, Angela exited the house and climbed into a truck in the driveway, leaving a rear driver-side door open.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him.”

“Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck,” he continued.

The affidavit adds that Herrera placed the documents on the ground by the vehicle and stated that he was serving a subpoena, but the Paxtons drove away.

Process Server or Lingering Stranger?

Following the publication of the affidavit in The Texas Tribune, Ken attacked the news outlet on Twitter and claimed to fear for his safety.

“This is a ridiculous waste of time and the media should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote. “All across the country, conservatives have faced threats to their safety – many threats that received scant coverage or condemnation from the mainstream media.”

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he continued.

On Monday, the attorney general filed two requests: a motion to quash the subpoena and another to seal the certificates of service, which included the affidavit.

His lawyers argued that Herrera “loitered at the Attorney General’s home for over an hour, repeatedly shouted at him, and accosted” him and his wife.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted both requests on Tuesday.

In a statement, the attorney general said that Herrera is “lucky this situation did not escalate further or necessitate force.”

See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (CNN) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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