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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)

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Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium

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The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.


Eviction Freeze Set To Expire

President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.

The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.

While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.

In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress. 

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

Delays in Relief Distribution 

The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.

Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.

A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires. 

The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape. 

Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.

According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 —  including New York — had not spent any funds at all.

Slim Chances in Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.

However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.

While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.

Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.

“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”

With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.

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

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

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

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

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

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