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- 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)
White House Turns on Dr. Fauci as Coronavirus Cases Surge
- Over the last week, Dr. Fauci has ramped up his criticisms of the coronavirus situation in the U.S. and disputed claims made by President Trump.
- In response, the Trump administration sent out a list of remarks Fauci made early on in the pandemic that have since proven to be wrong.
- Many condemned the move, pointing out that Trump has continued to push false narratives about the virus to this day even as Fauci has backtracked on past comments he made that turned out to be incorrect after more cohesive information came out.
- Meanwhile, cases are surging all over the country, and Florida reported the single highest new cases ever recorded in a day in any state.
Fauci Ramps Up Warnings
President Donald Trump’s administration has launched a concerted effort to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading expert on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and key public figure in the fight against the virus.
According to reports, the White House has blocked Dr. Fauci from his planned televised appearances in recent weeks. Some White House aides have said that is because TV interviewers often try to push Fauci into criticizing Trump and his administration’s approach to the virus. One senior official told the Washington Post that the doctor is not always good at “staying on message.”
But another person familiar with the matter also told CNN that Fauci has been making fewer TV appearances because the president is “annoyed by his public statements.”
Fauci himself seemed to hint at a similar reason in an interview with the Financial Times last week, saying, “I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately.”
In the same interview, Fauci also said that he had not seen Trump in person since June 2, and he has not briefed the president in two months. Despite the apparent limitations, Fauci has still been putting his message out.
During a Facebook Live event with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) on Tuesday, the top expert disputed the president’s claim that a lower death rate showed the United States’ progress in the fight against the coronavirus which he called “a false narrative.”
“Don’t get yourself into false complacency,” he warned.
The White House responded by canceling some of Fauci’s televised appearances scheduled for later in the week, according to the Post.
But Fauci still continued to contradict remarks made by Trump, faulting states for opening too soon and emphasize the seriousness of the situation in the U.S. During a podcast interview with FiveThirtyEight on Thursday, Fauci disputed the president’s frequent claim that the U.S. is “doing great.”
“As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great,” he said. “I mean, we’re just not.”
Trump Administration Response
Trump, for his part, has responded by publicly undermining and contradicting the top public health expert.
During a Fox News interview Thursday, he said that Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.”
During another interview earlier in the week, when asked about Fauci’s claim that, in his expert opinion, the U.S. was in a bad place, Trump responded, “I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him.”
However, the tension between Trump and Fauci escalated significantly on Saturday when aides to the president circulated a list of remarks made by Dr. Fauci to numerous media outlets that the administration said had later proved to be wrong.
That list, which multiple outlets have said resembled opposition research on a political opponent, was accompanied by a statement from a White House official who that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things” and noted about a dozen of those remarks.
According to reports, the list consisted of several instances early on in the pandemic where Fauci appeared to downplay the virus, including comments he made in January where he said the coronavirus was “not a major threat,” as well as reassurances he made in February where he minimized asymptomatic spread and argued that “at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.”
Response & Backlash
The list was a highly unusual move as it represented a direct attack by the Trump administration on one of its own members.
In response, many condemned Trump and praised Dr. Fauci, and the topic trended on Twitter. Some pointed out that the statements the White House had flagged were made by Dr. Fauci early on before there was more cohesive information about the coronavirus, and that he has since backtracked on those remarks.
But Trump, by contrast, has repeatedly downplayed the virus and actively made false claims about it as well as the use of face coverings.
White House officials told reporters that their intent with the list was not to discredit Fauci, but to show that everyone should listen to a wide range of doctors. Others, however, said that it was incredibly hypocritical to send out this list of statements Fauci made months ago that later turned out to be wrong when Trump still touts some to this day.
The White House attempt to sideline and undermine Fauci also comes as the U.S. is seeing just massive spikes. On Sunday, Florida reported the highest amount of new cases in a single day in any state with more than 15,000.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that COVID cases are now officially rising in 39 states.
Trump continued to downplay the virus Monday morning, re-tweeting a post by Chuck Woodley where the conservative former game show host wrote that “Everyone is lying” about the coronavirus, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and doctors.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NBC News)
Mueller Will Be Invited to Testify Before Senate Judiciary Committee Following Roger Stone Commutation
- On Friday, President Donald Trump commuted the 40-month sentence of Roger Stone, who was found guilty of seven felonies including: obstruction, witness tampering, and making false statements.
- The same day, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller defended his office’s prosecution of Stone, noting that Stone is still a convicted felon despite the commutation.
- On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he will allow Mueller to be invited to testify before his Congressional committee. Graham defended Stone’s commutation, saying this was a “non-violent, first-time offense.”
- Because Stone is a longtime friend of Trump, the move was condemned over the weekend by multiple Democrats and some Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
Trump Commutes Stone
President Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone had led to a flurry of responses, and it could even lead to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifying before Congress.
On Friday, Trump handed down the commutation to Stone, his longtime friend and former campaign adviser. For decades, Stone has been a figure of immense controversy, but increasing scrutiny in 2015 prompted him to leave the campaign team.
Stone later found himself a subject in the Mueller investigation, which was conducting a probe into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. In January 2019, Mueller’s office arrested Stone in relation to that investigation.
In November, Stone was convicted of all seven crimes he was accused of: witness tampering, obstructing a congressional investigation, and five counts of making false statements. In February, he was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Though he had managed to get a two-week extension, Stone would have reported to prison on Tuesday. Leading up to that, Stone repeatedly and openly asked for his sentence to be commuted, arguing that he could die in prison because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Trump] knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably,” Stone told journalist Howard Fineman just hours before his commutation. “But I didn’t.”
Even though Trump has commuted and pardoned a number of controversial figures, this is the first time he’s done so for someone directly connected to his campaign.
“Mr. Stone was charged by the same prosecutors from the Mueller Investigation tasked with finding evidence of collusion with Russia,” the White House said in a statement. “Because no such evidence exists, however, they could not charge him for any collusion-related crime.
“Instead, they charged him for his conduct during their investigation,” that statement went on to say. “The simple fact is that if the Special Counsel had not been pursuing an absolutely baseless investigation, Mr. Stone would not be facing time in prison.”
The White House statement also pushed the argument regarding Stone’s health, saying, “Mr. Stone is a 67-year-old man, with numerous medical conditions, who had never been convicted of another crime.”
“Mr. Stone would be put at serious medical risk in prison,” it said.
While the statement asserts that Stone was “charged by overzealous prosecutors pursing a case that never should have existed,” it never once says that Stone is innocent of the seven crimes he was convicted of—just that his crimes stemmed from the investigation.
“The president has saved my life,” Stone later said on Friday, “and he’s given me the opportunity to fight for vindication, to fight for my exoneration.”
Mueller Publishes Op-Ed
Also that same day, Mueller published an op-ed in The Washington Post where he defended Stone’s conviction and noted that the commutation does not overturn his status as a convicted felon.
“I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office,” Mueller said. “The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.”
In the op-ed, Mueller called Stone a “central figure” in the investigation for two reasons. The first was that in 2016, Stone reportedly communicated “with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers.” The second is that he “claimed advance knowledge” of the Wiki-leaks release of then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails by those Russian intelligence officers.
“When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts,” Mueller said.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) responded to Mueller’s op-ed on Sunday, indicating that he will now allow a Democratic request to allow Mueller to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Graham had previously blocked that request for months.
“Apparently Mr. Mueller is willing – and also capable – of defending the Mueller investigation through an oped in the Washington Post,” Graham said.
“Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have previously requested Mr. Mueller appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about his investigation. That request will be granted.”
Democrats Promise Investigation and Some Republicans Speak Out
Following Stones’ commutation, a wave of Democrats called the move an abuse of presidential power, saying it undermines the justice system.
For example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the move an example of “staggering corruption.” Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Trump had engaged in an “impeachable offense.” Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) also promised to launch an investigation in the House Judiciary Committee.
While many Republicans have been quiet on the commutation, some like Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), have spoken out, saying on Saturday, “Unprecedented, historic corruption: an American president commutes the sentence of a person convicted by a jury of lying to shield that very president.”
Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) also criticized the president for commuting Stone.
“While I understand the frustration with the badly flawed Russia-collusion investigation, in my view, commuting Roger Stone’s sentence is a mistake,” Toomey said. “He was duly convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of a congressional investigation conducted by a Republican-led committee.”
Toomey also noted that as recently as last week, Attorney General Bill Barr defended Stone’s conviction as “righteous.” Barr has also called Stone’s nearly three-and-a-half-year prison sentence“fair.”
Not all Republicans have vocally criticized the president for commuting Stone. In fact, Toomey and Romney have been directly targeted by Trump, who called them “Republicans in name only.”
Graham, on the other hand, has supported Trump’s move by citing Stone’s age and pointing out that this “was a non-violent, first-time offense.”
See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Politico) (The Washington Post)
Top Military General Pushes for a “Hard Look” at Confederate-Named Bases, Disavows Their Namesakes as Treasonous
- Top military Gen. Mark A. Milley said before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the military must take a “hard look” at Army bases named after Confederate officers.
- “The Confederacy… was an act of rebellion,” he said. “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.”
- Milley’s comments are an escalation in a recent tone shift by the military to disavow Confederate tributes that are rampant within the Armed Forces.
- It’s also being reported that the Defense Department is drafting a new policy that would ban the display of the Confederate flag from any of its buildings.
Milley Disavows Confederate Namesakes
A month after the U.S. Army said it was open to holding a “bipartisan conversation” on reviewing nearly a dozen major bases named after Confederate leaders, the military’s top officer has now said that the Armed Forces must take a “hard look” at that process.
“The Confederacy… was an act of rebellion,” General Mark A. Milley, who is also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday. “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.”
“The way we should do it matters as much as that we should do it. So we need to have, I’ve recommended, a commission of folks to take a hard look at the bases, the statues, the names, all of this stuff, to see if we can have a rational, mature discussion.”
During that meeting, Milley also said that about one in every five members of the Army is Black.
“For those young soldiers that go onto a base—a Fort Hood, a Fort Bragg or a fort wherever named after a Confederate general—they can be reminded that that general fought for the institution of slavery that may have enslaved one of their ancestors,” Milley said.
While the phrase “this should not be a political issue” has become increasingly common vernacular in U.S. politics in recent years, Milley asserted that his decision was political and that the renaming of those bases will need to be political, as well.
Any move to change those bases’ names will likely be met with a substantial amount of resistance, including from President Donald Trump. Just two days after Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced they were willing to hold talks on renaming 10 Army bases, Trump denounced the idea on Twitter.
“It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc,” Trump said on June 10. “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
“The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.”
“Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!”
Trump has vowed to veto any defense bill that includes proposals to initiate renaming proceedings. Still, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have backed the idea of renaming bases. A House version of an annual defense bill would explicitly ban displaying the Confederate flag on Defense Department property. Another pair of bills in the House even seek to tie funding to a renaming process.
In 2017, the Army refused to change the names of the bases in question, calling any attempt to rename them “controversial and divisive.” In February, McCarthy again said there were no plans to rename the bases.
However, McCarthy has now indicated that he has the power to change those bases’ names but will need input from the White House, Congress, and local officials.
Banning the Confederate Flag
On Monday, it was also reported that leaders at the Pentagon are currently considering a ban on the Confederate flag at all bases. Notably, any such ban would extend to the whole of the Department of Defense.
CNN, which first reported the news, said it obtained the information from an official within the Pentagon. That official spoke on the condition of anonymity, as the move to ban Confederate flags would currently be classified as internal deliberations.
Thursday, Esper told the House that he’s initiated a process to begin examining “substantive and symbolic” issues.
“We want to take a look at all those things,” Esper said. “There is a process underway by which we affirm… what types of flags are authorized on U.S. military bases.”
The announcement came roughly a month after two branches of the military—the Marines followed by the Navy—banned Confederate flags on their bases. Those bans include the flag itself, as well as iconography displayed on shirts and bumper stickers. They did not ban historical uses of the flag, such as in scenes depicting Civil War battles.
Still, calls to remove Confederate tributes from the U.S. military have not stopped with only installation names and Confederate flags. Many also want the military to disavow the names of ships and buildings with Confederate namesakes.
Why Were U.S. Military Bases Named After Confederates?
The concept behind naming U.S. military installations after leaders of an army that committed treason against the United States is (to say the least) a bit of an oxymoron, even if it has only recently come into mainstream purview thanks largely to wide-scale protests over racial injustice.
Notably, each of those 10 installations are all in former Confederate States—Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Alabama. Most of them were founded in the early 1940’s following the U.S. joining World War II because of an immediate need for large areas of land on which to build Army bases. They then gained their namesakes from influential local residents.
Not only were these bases named during the Jim Crow era, two were also named after self-avowed white supremacists. Fort Benning—located near Columbus, Georgia—is named after Brigadier General Henry Benning, who directly cited the preservation slavery as a reason for secession during the Virginian secession convention of 1861.
“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished,” Benning said in his explicitly racist speech. “By the time the North shall have attained the power, the Black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have Black governors, Black legislatures, Black juries, Black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that?”
“We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa,” Benning later added in that speech.
The other base, Fort Bragg, carries the namesake of General Braxton Bragg. Ironically, Bragg is considered one of the worst generals in the Civil War, and most of his battles led to defeat. In fact, his losses were so devastating that he is commonly cited as one of the main reasons the Confederacy lost the war.
Though it’s not the case for all the bases Milley is looking to rename, both Benning and Bragg have ties to the states where their bases sit.
Besides the 10 bases in question, several other bases with Confederate namesakes still exist and currently have no plans of being renamed. That includes Camp Pendleton in Virginia, as well as Camp Maxey in Texas. Both are national guard posts.
While not named after an officer, Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, is named after a slave plantation. Funnily enough, it didn’t gain that name until 1935 when it was changed from Camp A. A. Humphreys. What’s more, A. A. Humphreys was a Union General during the Civil War. Because of that, some have renewed criticism over the fort’s current name, arguing that it propagates a nostalgic vision of the Antebellum South.