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Pence Tells Governors to Push False Narratives About Testing as Explanations for Coronavirus Spikes

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Photo by Andrew Harnik for AP

  • During a private call on Monday, Vice President Pence reportedly told governors to peddle the false narrative that coronavirus spikes all over the U.S. were due to increased testing capabilities.
  • Pence’s call followed similar remarks made by President Trump, who also claimed that, “If we stop testing right now, we would have very few cases, if any.”
  • Experts have said the increased numbers are not just due to more tests being conducted, and the high number of tests coming back positive in numerous states indicate that cases are, in fact, on the rise.
  • Pence also falsely claimed that there is only a “marginal rise” in new cases, despite reports that new cases are increasing in more than half the states.

Pence’s Tells Governors to Push Misleading Claims

Vice President Mike Pence reportedly directed governors to push the misleading claim that the spike in coronavirus cases the U.S. is currently experiencing is due to increased testing capabilities during a private call with the state leaders on Monday.

“I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” Pence said, according to audio obtained by the New York Times. 

“And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing,” he continued. “But also encourage people with the news that we are safely reopening the country.” 

Pence’s directions echoed similar remarks given by President Donald Trump at an event earlier in the day.

“If we stop testing right now, we would have very few cases, if any,” Trump said. “We will show more cases when other countries have far more cases than we do, they just don’t talk about it.” 

That, however, is not a new argument for the president. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. has a high number of coronavirus cases because it does so much testing.

But experts have said that claim is misleading for a number of reasons. During an interview with ABC News on Friday, Dr. Athony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, explained that it is crucial to look at the percentage of positive tests when discussing the relationship between increased testing and cases.

“If you test more, you will likely pick up more infections,” he said. “Once you see that the percentage is higher, then you’ve really got to be careful, because then you really are seeing additional infections that you weren’t seeing before.”

In other words, the number of people who test positive is a better indicator of whether or not cases are rising than the number of tests being administered. 

If a state increases its testing and a high percentage of the tests come back negative, it means cases are going down, or at least staying low. But if a state increases its testing and a high percentage come back positive, it means that cases are growing, or at least higher than previously believed.

According to data collected by the COVID Tracking Project and the Times, the rate of positive cases is increasing faster than the average number of tests being given in at least 14 states. In at least six states, the seven-day average of new cases has increased since the end of last month, while the average number of daily tests being given has gone down.

Both metrics indicate that the rising cases in those states are not just due to increased testing capabilities.

Coronavirus Spikes in U.S.

The vice president’s claim that the U.S. is only seeing a “marginal” increase in new COVID-19 cases is also misleading.

According to data collected by NPR, new daily cases are now rising in more than half of the states, and at least 7 states have reported more than 100% increases in the number of reported cases compared to two weeks ago.

The largest spikes are in states that had early re-openings, according to the Times, which found that, “Most of the 10 hardest-hit states that have seen rising case levels started reopening on or before May 8.”

For example, right now, Arizona, Texas, and Florida⁠— all states that had some of the broadest early reopenings⁠— are all reporting their highest case numbers so far in the pandemic.

Arizona, specifically, has become a major hotspot, with the weekly average of daily cases almost tripling from what they were two weeks ago.

The number of people being hospitalized for coronavirus is also increasing in all three states.

In Arizona, hospitalization rates have also nearly doubled, prompting the state’s health director to tell hospitals to activate coronavirus emergency plans for the first time since March. On Monday, Texas recorded its highest daily number of patients hospitalized from coronavirus for the fourth day in a row.

Those numbers are significant, because experts have said that increased hospitalization rates are another sign that cases are increasing, and that those increases are not due to testing alone. 

Despite the fact that multiple health officials and experts in Arizona, Florida, and Texas have explicitly said that the increase in testing is not the sole cause for the spikes, the governors of all three states have repeatedly claimed that cases are high because of increased testing.

In Arizona, which is the most extreme example of both increases in positive test rates and hospitalizations, public health experts have agreed that the timing of the spike is specifically a reflection of the state’s reopening.

But despite the alarming numbers and warnings from public health experts, the governors of all three hot-spot states have said they will not reimpose lockdown restrictions, and instead are continuing to push forward with their planned reopenings.

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

Politics

Jan. 6 Rally Organizers Say They Met With Members of Congress and White House Officials Ahead of Insurrection

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Two sources told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of meetings with “multiple members of Congress” and top White House aides to plan the rallies that proceeded the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Rolling Stone Report

Members of Congress and White House Staffers under former President Donald Trump allegedly helped plan the Jan. 6 protests that took place outside the U.S. Capitol ahead of the insurrection, according to two sources who spoke to Rolling Stone.

According to a report the outlet published Sunday, the two people, identified only as “a rally organizer” and “a planner,” have both “begun communicating with congressional investigators.”

The two told Rolling Stone that they participated in “dozens” of planning briefings ahead of the protests and said that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”

“I remember Marjorie Taylor Greene specifically,” the person identified as a rally organizer said. “I remember talking to probably close to a dozen other members at one point or another or their staffs.”

The two also told Rolling Stone that a number of other Congress members were either personally involved in the conversations or had staffers join, including Representatives Paul Gosar (R-Az.), Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), Mo Brooks (R-Al.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Andy Biggs (R-Az.), and Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.).

The outlet added that it “separately obtained documentary evidence that both sources were in contact with Gosar and Boebert on Jan. 6,” though it did not go into further detail. 

A spokesperson for Greene has denied involvement with planning the protests, but so far, no other members have responded to the report. 

Previous Allegations Against Congressmembers Named

This is not the first time allegations have surfaced concerning the involvement of some of the aforementioned congress members regarding rallies that took place ahead of the riot.

As Rolling Stone noted, Gosar, Greene, and Boebert were all listed as speakers at the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which was arranged by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.

Additionally, Alexander said during a now-deleted live stream in January that he personally planned the rally with the help of Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks.

Biggs and Brooks previously denied any involvement in planning the event, though Brooks did speak at a pro-Trump protest on Jan. 6.

Gosar, for his part, has remained quiet for months but tagged Alexander in numerous tweets involving Stop the Steal events leading up to Jan. 6, including one post that appears to be taken at a rally at the Capitol hours before the insurrection.

Notably, the organizer and the planner also told Rolling Stone that Gosar “dangled the possibility of a ‘blanket pardon’ in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests.”

Alleged White House Involvement

Beyond members of Congress, the outlet reported that the sources “also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.”

Both reportedly described Meadows “as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests.”

The two additionally said Katrina Pierson, who worked for the Trump campaign in both 2016 and 2020, was a key liaison between the organizers of the demonstrations and the White House.

“Katrina was like our go-to girl,” the organizer told the outlet. “She was like our primary advocate.”

According to Rolling Stone, the sources have so far only had informal talks with the House committee investigating the insurrection but are expecting to testify publicly. Both reportedly said they would share “new details about the members’ specific roles” in planning the rallies with congressional investigators.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Business Insider) (Forbes)

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Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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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)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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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)

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