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White House Coronavirus Cases Spark Concerns About Internal Precautions

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  • After two White House staffers tested positive, Dr. Fauci, the CDC director, and the FDA commissioner all went into at least partial isolation.
  • Meanwhile, others who were likely exposed are still coming to work, include Vice President Pence, whose press secretary Katie Miller tested positive.
  • Few precautions have been taken, and no one is being told to wear masks.
  • During a meeting just hours after Miller tested positive, a video showed guests being told to remove their mask before meeting with the VP.

White House Cases

Concerns are rising over the lack of precautions taken by the White House to ensure employee safety after two members of the West Wing tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

On Thursday, an unnamed military valet for President Donald Trump tested positive for the virus. One day later, Trump announced that Katie Miller, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, had received a positive test result.

According to reports, the White House has performed contact tracing and everyone known to have contact with Miller has so far tested negative, including her husband Stephen Miller, a top Trump advisor.

There have been no other reports of confirmed cases coming out of the White House, but the news still caused a stir, especially because Ms. Miller was recently present at a number of meetings and gatherings among White House staff.

As a result, three key members of the coronavirus task force announced that they would begin taking some isolation measures. Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, both said that they would be quarantining themselves for 14 days and working from home.

The two officials said they had come in contact with a member of the president’s staff who was infected. Neither said who that staff member was, but according to reports, both were at a meeting in the Situation Room with Miller last week.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the face of the coronavirus task force, also said that he was starting a “modified quarantine” after having what he called “low risk” contact with an infected White House staffer.

On Saturday, a spokesperson for Dr. Fauci said that while he is low risk, he is still “taking appropriate precautions to mitigate risk to any of his personal contacts while still allowing him to carry out his responsibilities in this public health crisis.”

Those precautions include “a mix of teleworking and wearing a mask during in-person meetings,” the spokesperson explained.

White House Response

The response from the White House, at least so far, has been very different. In a statement Sunday night, a spokesperson for Pence said that the vice president, “has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”

Senior administration officials have also told reporters that many members of the White House staff who were probably in meetings with Miller before she tested positive were still going in to work.

All White House staffers were reportedly sent a memo Friday encouraging them to “practice maximum telework” and “work remotely if at all possible.” However, several administration officials have said that White House employees were encouraged to go into work by their supervisors. They also said aides who travel with Trump and Pence would not stay out of the office for 14 days.

According to reports, the all-staff memo did not encourage White House staffers to wear masks, which the CDC has recommended for all Americans in public spaces. In a separate statement to the media, a spokesperson outlined the measures the White House is taking. Those precautions also did not mention masks or other protective gear.

“In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitizer, and regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, every staff member in proximity to the president and vice president is being tested daily for covid-19 as well as any guests,” the spokesperson said.

But some of those precautions were already in place before the valet and Miller tested positive, and even with them, there are still problems.

“Given the cramped nature of the West Wing, which makes proper social distancing all but impossible, the fear is that more cases of Covid-19 will emerge,” CNN’s Stephen Collinson explained Monday.

Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to Trump, also echoed that sentiment while speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday.

“It is scary to go to work,” he said. “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.” 

“But I think that everybody knows that going to work, even in the West Wing, I mean, it’s a small, crowded place” he continued. “It’s, you know, it’s a little bit risky. But you have to do it because you have to serve your country.” 

Lack of Masks

While top administration officials have expressed concerns over going back into the White House for work, Trump on Friday said that some people— like valets and Secret Service members— would be required to start wearing masks.

That, however, does not seem to apply to Trump, Pence, and their other White House staffers. Despite the risk of the coronavirus spreading in the White House, this is still a place where the administration is digging its heels in. 

But this is not a new occurrence. Trump has previously said he will ignore his own administration’s guidelines and not wear a mask— and he’s stuck by that.

The president has never worn a mask in a public appearance, including, somewhat ironically, during a recent tour of a mask factory, where he chose to wear goggles but not a mask.

Pence has also received arguably even more heat for not wearing a mask during appearances at hospitals, factories, and nursing homes.

In fact, according to reports, just hours after it was confirmed that Miller had tested positive, Pence met with a group of food industry executives in Iowa. A video livestream of the event shows a woman asking the guests to remove their masks before the vice president came on stage.

Miller, who had tested negative as recently as the day before receiving a positive result, also made an appearance outside a nursing home in Virginia where she did not wear a mask while briefing the press.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Debra Saunders, who was covering the event, even noted that at one point Miller, “coughed, then quipped that she didn’t have the coronavirus.”

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

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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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Biden Signs 17 Executive Order During His First Day in Office. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • In the first hours of his presidency, Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders and proclamations, many of which focused on rolling back Trump administration policies regarding immigration, the environment, and protections for minority groups.
  • Biden also implemented several measures to tackle the coronavirus, including requiring masks to be worn on federal property and by federal employees. He is also expected to announce a new national strategy aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.
  • On Thursday, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.

Biden Rolls Back Trump Policies

President Joe Biden signed 17 executive actions and proclamations Wednesday afternoon. Many of his first acts in office are focused on rolling back several policies implemented by former President Donald Trump that Biden’s aides said have caused the “greatest damage” to the country.

“I thought there’s no time to wait, get to work immediately,” Biden told reporters present during the signed of several of the orders. 

Here is a breakdown of some of the key measures Biden implemented.

Immigration

Biden immediately ended all construction on the border wall by overhauling the national emergency declaration Trump had enacted to divert billions in federal funds to his central campaign promise.

The new president also expanded protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and overturned a Trump policy that made immigration enforcement more strict and

In similar actions, he also ended the travel ban on multiple Muslim-majority countries and revoked a Trump administration order that would have excluded non-citizens from the 2020 Census count.

The Environment

One of the most significant actions Biden took was signing a letter to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. It will take 30 days for the return to go into effect.

The president also issued a sweeping order that reversed a number of the Trump administration’s environmental policies, including revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, re-establishing a working group to look into the social costs of greenhouse gasses, and temporarily banning oil and natural gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Justice for Minority Groups

In one far-reaching order, Biden directed all federal agencies to review equity in their programs and policies. They are required to issue a report within 200 days that, among other things, details how each will remove barriers to opportunities and ensure all Americans have equal access to federal resources.

Biden also ended Trump’s policy that limited federal agencies, contractors, and other organizations from holding diversity and inclusion training. The same order also disbanded the 1776 Commission created by Trump to study his claims that the education system was too liberal in its teaching of American history.

In a separate order, the president issued changes that will broaden federal protections against sex discrimination to include LGBTQ+ Americans, reversing a previous action by Trump.

Government Accountability

As part of a broad measure aimed at general accountability in the executive branch, Biden issued an order that will establish ethics rules for all people in his administration. The same order will also require all executive branch appointees to sign an ethics pledge. 

Separately, the president additionally froze all new regulations Trump had put in place during his last few weeks in office until they can be further evaluated.

Economy and Coronavirus

Chief among Biden’s first acts in office were his plans for the coronavirus pandemic and the damage it has caused to the American people.

In terms of financial relief, Biden extended the ban on evictions and foreclosures and paused student loan payments until September.

As for direct actions concerning the pandemic, the president imposed a mask mandate for all federal employees and anyone on federal property. He also signed an extensive order aimed at restructuring the federal response to the pandemic.

Biden is expected to enact more policies in regards to the coronavirus in the coming days, including taking more executive actions to ramp up testing and vaccine distribution, safely reopening schools and businesses, and provide more money to states to help carry out those efforts, among other things.

To achieve these goals, he will also invoke the Defense Production Act, which will compel American companies to manufacture supplies for the pandemic response such as PPE and other items needed for vaccines.

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

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U.S. To Join WHO-led Vaccine Distribution Plan as Biden Implements a Flurry of COVID-19 Executive Orders

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  • Dr. Anthony Fauci indicated Thursday that President Joe Biden will join COVAX, a World Health Organization-led COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.
  • Fauci’s announcement comes one day after Biden signed an executive order reversing former President Donald Trump’s plan to remove the United States from the WHO. 
  • Among other orders, Biden plans to implement a mask mandate for airports, planes, trains, and other forms of interstate travel. He has already ordered masks to be worn on all federal property. 
  • Biden is also expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday, which would speed up the development and distribution of vaccine-related equipment.

U.S. To Join COVAX

Just one day after President Joe Biden signed an order to keep the United States in the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country will join its global COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan.

That plan, COVAX, is a collaborative effort between 92 countries to ensure that COVID vaccines aren’t only distributed in wealthy countries.

The idea behind the plan is that establishing a global herd immunity will be much more effective at curbing the spread of the virus than just establishing herd immunity in countries that can afford to buy large quantities of the vaccine, especially when international travel picks back up. 

The plan is not without its shortcomings. Earlier this week, the WHO stated that some countries participating in COVAX have been disregarding the plan and buying large quantities of vaccines for themselves.

Nonetheless, in a video conference call Thursday morning with the WHO’s executive board, Fauci — now chief medical advisor to the president — said the Biden administration believes it can inoculate every American while also helping people in other countries.

Biden’s plan to join COVAX is a stark contrast from the Trump administration, which refused to participate in the program. 

Fauci said Biden will issue the directive to join COVAX later Thursday. 

Additionally, Fauci noted that the U.S. once again “intends to fulfill its financial obligations” to the WHO. 

In his attempt to leave the organization, Trump cut off payments from the U.S.; however, his administration never got the chance to fully cut ties with the organization because the U.S. wasn’t scheduled to officially leave until July of this year. 

Biden Signs Mask Mandate, Other Orders To Come

Among other COVID-related executive orders signed Wednesday, Biden implemented a national mask mandate for people on federal property. 

Sometime Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign another order requiring masks to be worn in airports, as well as on airplanes, trains, and other interstate transit systems.

Also on Thursday, Biden is also expected to sign an order that will establish a COVID-19 testing board. Once implemented, the board will be responsible for increasing testing rates, addressing supply shortfalls, and determining the rules and regulations for international travelers coming into the U.S. It will also have the power to distribute resources to minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by the virus.

On top of that, Biden plans to sign an order that will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states and Native American tribes for their emergency response efforts. Notably, those reimbursements include costs related to reopening schools.

Finally, Biden is expected to invoke the Defense Production Act on Thursday. Such a move would speed up the production of masks and other equipment needed to help administer vaccines.  

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Reuters) (CNBC)

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