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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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Federal Court Throws Out Alabama Congressional Map, Citing Racial Gerrymandering

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The judges ruled that the Republican-held legislature gerrymandered the map so the state only had one Black-majority district despite Black residents composing 27% of the state’s population.


Alabama Ordered to Redraw Map

A panel of federal judges tossed Alabama’s new congressional map on Monday, ruling that the current version significantly weakens the voting power of Black residents.   

In their decision, the three judges noted that while about 27% of Alabamians are Black, the map drawn by the Republican-led legislature after the 2020 census was gerrymandered to leave just one of the state’s seven districts with a Black majority.

“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote. “We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law.”

As a result, the panel also ordered state lawmakers to redraw their map so that it includes “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

The legislature was given 14 days to redo their map before they appoint a special master to do so.

Ongoing Legal Battles

Shortly after the ruling, a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement that his office “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days.” 

According to reports, the matter could ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which would decide whether lawmakers can draw maps that are gerrymandered along racial lines.

The high court ruled in 2019 that federal courts do not have the power to block congressional maps that are gerrymandered to skew districts in a partisan manner unless a state’s constitution explicitly prohibits such gerrymandering. The justices did keep parts of the Voting Rights Act that ban racial or ethnic gerrymandering, which the federal panel claimed was the case in Alabama.

Alabama’s congressional map is not the only one drawn by Republicans that has been thrown out in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Ohio’s Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw a map that would have given Republicans 12 congressional seats and Democrats just three despite the fact that recently the GOP has only won about 55% of the popular vote statewide.

The state’s high court ruled that the map clearly violated a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (AL.com)

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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Cases at Harvard and UNC

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The decision to take up the two cases marks the first time affirmative action will go before the high court’s latest conservative-majority bloc.


SCOTUS Takes on Race-Conscious Admissions, Again

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will again consider whether race-conscious admissions programs at universities are legal in two cases that could have serious implications for affirmative action.

The two lawsuits center around admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), both of which were brought by the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.

The Harvard case started in 2014 with a lawsuit that claimed the school discriminated against Asian American students by effectively creating a quota for their admission. It also alleged the school a subjective standard to measure personality traits like likability, courage, and kindness.

The Ivy League school denied the allegations, claiming the challengers used incorrect statistical analysis and broadly arguing that race-conscious policies are legal.

In the case against UNC, the group alleged that the school discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.

The university, for its part, argued that its policies create more diversity among its student body, also echoing Harvard’s argument that such rules are legal under decades of Supreme Court precedents.

Past Precedent Up in the Air

Lower courts ruled in favor of both schools, finding they did indeed comply with Supreme Court decisions.

But in taking up these two cases, the high court’s conservative majority will now examine whether race-conscious admissions are legal at all. The move could decide the future of affirmative action and undermine more than four decades of precedent on the use of race in college admissions.

The last two times the high court took up cases regarding affirmative action, the justices upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious programs by slim majorities. Now, those majorities have been replaced by a conservative bloc that includes three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump.

According to reports, the justices will likely hear the cases in October. 

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

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Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress

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The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.


Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.

“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”

“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.

The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban. 

“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”

While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.

But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.

The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic. 

The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges. 

Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban

In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.

Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.

According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.

In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.

“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”

Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.

The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)

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