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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)
Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access
- The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
- Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
- Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.
Georgia House Approves Election Bill
Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.
The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:
- Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
- Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
- Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
- Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
- Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
- Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
- Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
- Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
- Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
- Limit early voting hours on weekends.
The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.
Arguments For And Against The Bill
The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.
But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.
Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.
Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.
As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.
From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.
Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.
See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)
Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
- Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
- Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
- In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.
Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her
A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.
Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.
She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.
Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”
She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress.
Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Others Back Bennett’s Account
Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction.
Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.
Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.
Cuomo Calls for Investigation
Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.
On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (CBS News)
House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination
- The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
- Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
- The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.
House Approves Equality Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places.
The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers.
Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.
But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.
A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.
Support and Opposition
Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”
However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.
Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.
Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.
Shift in Public Opinion
Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.
“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”
Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.
A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.