- 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)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
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)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
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)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
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.