- During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned against opening the country back up too soon.
- At the hearing, Fauci said states that reopen too early without heeding federal guidelines could risk uncontrollable outbreaks that lead to “suffering and death that could be avoided,” and undermine economic recovery.
- This is a direct contrast to what President Trump has been saying, which implies that America is starting to come out on the other side of the virus, despite the U.S. hitting 80,000 deaths.
Dr. Fauci Testifies
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the coronavirus task force, testified in a highly anticipated Senate hearing on Tuesday.
The hearing, dubbed “Covid-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School,” was held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. It marked the first time the leading expert was publicly questioned by Congress since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency two months ago.
In addition to Dr. Fauci, senators also heard testimony from Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Much of the focus of the hearing, especially the questions directed to Dr. Fauci, were centered around the widespread reopening efforts states have started to undertake.
In an email to the New York Times the night before the hearing, Dr. Fauci said that the message he wished to convey to the committee “is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely.”
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” he wrote. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Dr. Fauci Doubles Down
Dr. Fauci hit on that point during the hearing when asked what he thinks will happen if states start to open up too soon.
“My concern is that if states or cities or regions their attempt, understandable, to get back to some form of normality, disregard to a greater sense of degree the checkpoints that we put in our guidelines about when it is safe to proceed in pulling back on mitigation,” he said.
“Because I feel if that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” he continued. “Which in fact, paradoxically will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery. So you would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward.”
“When you are in the process of opening up and pulling back on mitigation, you really must have in place the capability of responding when you do that the inevitable uptick of cases. That will absolutely occur,” Dr. Fauci reiterated later in the hearing.
“It’s how we deal with it, and how successful we are in how we put the clamps on it, that will prevent us from getting the kind of rebound that not only from the standpoint of illness and death would be something that’s unacceptable. But it will set us back in our progress towards reopening the country.”
Dr. Fauci also pushed back against a number of claims President Trump has made in recent weeks. When asked if he thought the U.S. had the virus under control, as Trump has indicated, he responded, “If you think that we have it completely under control, we don’t.“
“If you look at the dynamics of the outbreak, we are seeing a diminution of hospitalizations and infections in some places—such as in New York City, which has plateaued and is starting to come down, New Orleans—but in other parts of the country, we are seeing spikes.”
“We run the risk of having a resurgence,” he added. “I would hope by that point in time in the fall that we have more than enough to respond adequately, but if we don’t, there will be problems.”
The doctor additionally addressed Trump’s claims that the coronavirus will go away without a vaccine.
“That is just not going to happen,” he said. “It’s a highly transmissible virus. It is likely there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will likely get back to us.”
The points made by Dr.Fauci were also echoed and supported by the other experts, like CDC director Dr. Redfield, who told the Senators “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Contradicting Trump’s Remarks
Many of the remarks made by Dr. Fauci and the other health experts appeared to directly contract remarks made by President Trump over the last few weeks.
Two weeks ago when the federal social distancing guidelines expired, Trump announced he would not extend them.
“We think we really have crossed a big boundary, and much better days are ahead,” he said. “And I often say I see the light at the end of the tunnel, very strongly.”
Since then, the president has generally spoken about the virus as though it has largely been handled, even as the U.S. has now hit 80,000 recorded deaths. But that has not stopped Trump from claiming victory.
“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” he boldly declared while speaking from the Rose Garden Monday.
When asked later, Trump said that he meant the country had prevailed on increasing access to testing, but even that is a questionable claim.
It is true that the U.S. has nearly doubled daily testing from 150,000 tests per day from a month ago to 300,000 per day recently, but that number is still far under the five million daily target Trump himself set last month.
Despite falling short of this self-proclaimed goal, Trump has repeatedly bragged about U.S. testing capabilities.
“We have a great testing capacity now,” he said Monday. “If somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.”
However, it is simply not true that everyone has access to testing. The U.S. only has the capacity to test everyone who is symptomatic or has been in contact with someone that tested positive.
Trump also mischaracterized the number of new cases in the U.S., claiming that they are “way down from what they were two weeks ago. The numbers are really coming down very substantially. This weekend was one of the lowest we’ve had.”
While the number of new cases reported across the country this weekend was 40,000, which is less than the 60,000 reported two weeks ago, that is still not good.
It is also not a “universal” trend, as Trump said. According to reports, new cases are actually increasing in nine states and basically unchanged in more than two dozen others.
Those facts and the remarks made by Dr. Fauci are highly relevant as more and more states begin to reopen.
The majority of states have started to implement at least a partial reopening, but according to reports, more than half of those states do not meet the Trump administration’s guidelines for doing so, which rely on increased testing capabilities and a downward trajectory of positive cases.
Many of those states have not increased their testing capabilities, and according to the Times: “In more than half of states easing restrictions last week, case counts were trending upward, the proportion of positive test results was rising, or both.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan
- President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
- Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
- The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.
Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan
President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.
Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.
Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.
Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.
Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.
As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.
Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.
The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.
Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters
- More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
- The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
- The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.”
- Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.
Demands for Investigation
Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.
In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack.
In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.
They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.
The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.
“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.”
The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”
Members Under Fire
Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.
In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection.
Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.
“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”
While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.
“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”
Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History
- The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
- Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
- Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
- McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.
House Debates Impeachment
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.
Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.
Questionable Path in Senate
No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”
Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.
McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump.
Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.
In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.