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U.S. Won’t Join WHO-led Effort to Find and Distribute Coronavirus Vaccine

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  • On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that the United States will not join an effort led by the World Health Organization that aims to find and distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
  • So far, 172 countries have expressed interest in the initiative, but the U.S. response has been criticized as “vaccine nationalism.”
  • In part, the W.H.O.-led effort seeks to ensure that poorer countries will also have access to vaccines based on their case-load.
  • One major problem that could arise is a U.S. hoarding of vaccines. If that were to be the case, many Americans would likely still be vulnerable to international cases, as the first approved vaccine will likely not offer full protection.

U.S. Won’t Join W.H.O. Vaccine Efforts 

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it would not be joining a World Health Organization-led effort that seeks to find and distribute a coronavirus vaccine around the world.

“The United States will continue to engage our international partners to ensure we defeat this virus,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere explained, “but we will not be constrained by multilateral organizations influenced by the corrupt World Health Organization and China.”

Deere’s comment fall back on an argument that the Trump administration has made for months: the W.H.O. is too “China-centric.” In July, the Trump administration formally began the process to withdraw from the W.H.O. because of such criticism.

So far, 172 countries have engaged in discussions to participate in the W.H.O.-led vaccine effort, known as the COVAX initiative. 

That program aims for several outcomes, with the ultimate goal of distributing 2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccines by the end of next year. 

One of the main objectives of the Covax effort is to avoid a situation where vaccine access is limited to countries that have either produced the vaccine or can afford to buy large quantities. 

For example, Covax aims to distribute vaccines based on population size, prioritizing health care workers and vulnerable people. It also plans to set aside a portion that can be sent to hot spots if they should arise. 

The idea of the initiative is that such a method will allow wealthy and middle-income countries to help fund the development of at least nine current vaccine candidates, while also allowing poorer countries to receive vaccines based upon need. By doing this, the Covax effort hopes to avoid repeating what could essentially be a much more deadly repeat of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, which was hoarded by rich countries.

“Vaccine Nationalism” Criticism

While rich countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan have expressed interest in the initiative, the U.S. now faces criticism and concern over its decision to opt out the effort. 

Experts have chiefly pointed to one of two scenarios. 

The first, which is unlikely but still possible, would be that none of the U.S. candidates are viable, leaving the United States with no option because it shunned the Covax effort. 

As The Washington Post describes it, this could prove to be a potentially risky move because “it eliminates the chance to secure doses from a pool of promising vaccine candidates.”

Kendall Hoyt, an assistant professor from Dartmouth’s School of Medicine, told The Post that such a move is like deciding to opt out of an insurance policy. Hoyt argued the U.S. could be pursuing bilateral deals with drug companies while participating in Covax at the same time.

According to reports, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had expressed interest in bringing the U.S. into the Covax effort, but that failed after he was met with resistance from government officials who argued that the U.S. already had enough coronavirus vaccine candidates. 

The second outcome is that the U.S. does develop an effective vaccine but hoards it, vaccinating a large number of Americans — including those at lower risk of catching or contracting a particularly bad case of COVID-19 — while leaving other countries without.

Of course, many would ask: shouldn’t the U.S. take care of its own citizens first? The problem, according to experts, is that the first vaccine approved in the U.S. likely won’t offer full protection. That means some Americans might still be vulnerable to imported cases. 

In other words, experts say that the less people who receive the vaccine internationally, the greater the risk of the coronavirus spreading even more in the U.S.

On top of that, U.S. economic recovery is also going to depend on economic recovery in other parts of the world. There, many have pointed back to a statement last month from the W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who warned against “vaccine nationalism.”

“For the world to recover faster, it has to recover together, because it’s a globalised world: the economies are intertwined,” he said. “Part of the world or a few countries cannot be a safe haven and recover.”

Still, the  Trump administration has defended its efforts to continually distance itself from the W.H.O. For example, it has argued that the U.S. is akin to an airplane passenger securing its own oxygen mask before helping others,

“You put on your own first, and then we want to help others as quickly as possible,” Food and Drug Administration senior official Peter Marks said in June. 

However, as columnists for Foreign Affairs argued, “The major difference, of course, is that airplane oxygen masks do not drop only in first class — which is the equivalent of what will happen when vaccines eventually become available if governments delay providing access to them to people in other countries.”

When Could A COVID Vaccine Come?

One of the lasting questions of the pandemic is: When will the public start seeing vaccines being made readily available?

Unfortunately, that answer is still unknown, but two major health officials have recently suggested that a vaccine could come early. 

On Sunday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the FDA might authorize a vaccine before Phase 3 trials are completed.

“It is up to the sponsor to apply for authorization or approval, and we make an adjudication of their application,” Hahn said. “If they do that before the end of Phase 3, we may find that appropriate. We may find that inappropriate. We will make the decision.”

To be clear, Hahn’s language here is fairly specific. It will almost certainly fall under the umbrella of “if the benefits outweigh the risks.” Nonetheless, the news was significant if for no other reason than Hahn indicated that the agency was willing to potentially make such a move. 

Then, on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told Kaiser Health News that clinical trials could be stopped early if they provide overwhelmingly positive results that show a vaccine is safe and effective.

Fauci said scientists would have a “moral obligation” to make the vaccine available to all participants in the study if that were the case, thus speeding up that vaccine’s ability to hit the public.

Neither Fauci or Hahn’s comments have come without some level of concern. Many worry that both could be influenced by President Donald Trump’s rush to make a vaccine available. Last month, Trump even suggested that a vaccine could be ready as early as Election Day in November. 

As far as Fauci’s comments go, the body that has the power to end trials early is the Data and Safety Monitoring Board. Notably, it is independent and not controlled by the executive branch. In fact, its members are not even government workers. Because of that, Fauci said any decision the board makes isn’t going to be influenced by the president.

Hahn has also denied that the FDA will submit to pressure from the Trump administration, but concern that Trump is pressuring the FDA to give the green light on unproven coronavirus treatments is nothing new.

Last week, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for plasma recovered from COVID patients despite concerns that plasma might not be as effective as Trump had indicated. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Institutes of Health stressed that there is “insufficient data” to show whether plasma is or isn’t a safe, effective treatment.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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Josh Hawley Claims Ethics Complaint Against Him Is “Cancel Culture”

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  • Seven Democratic Senators filed an ethics complaint against Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz last week over their efforts in leading objections to the certification of the presidential election.
  • The group urged the Ethics Committee to launch an investigation into whether Cruz and Hawley’s actions inspired violence or if there were any connections between the two Senators, their staffers, and the insurrectionists.
  • Hawley filed a counter-complaint against the seven Democrats Monday, arguing that they were engaging in cancel culture. 
  • “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together,” he wrote.

Ethics Committee Complaints

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) filed a counter-complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee Monday alleging that a group of Democratic senators were engaging in “cancel culture” by calling for a recent investigation into his conduct.

Last week, seven Democratic senators, lead by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), filed an ethics complaint against Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) for leading the objection to the certification of the presidential election

In the complaint, the members accused Hawley and Cruz of legitimizing the false claims that prompted the insurrection in the first place and then continuing to “amplify the claims of fraud that they likely knew to be baseless and that had led to violence earlier that day,” by still voting to object.

The letter also noted that both Cruz and Hawley touted their plan to object to the certification as a way to collect more campaign donations. It argued that they continued to do so while the Capitol was literally under siege and even after the insurrection. 

As a result, the seven Democrats urged the Ethics Committee to investigate whether there was any coordination between Hawley, Cruz, or their staffers and the insurrectionists, if they knew about the plans for the Jan. 6 rally, or if they took donations from people and organizations involved.

They also implored the committee to look into whether the actions of the two Senators actions inspired violence or “otherwise engaged in criminal conduct, or unethical or improper behavior.” If any evidence is found, the Democrats recommended the committee take “strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure.”

Hawley Speaks Out

In his counter-complaint, Hawley accused the Democrats of trampling on free speech in an attempt to “cancel” him.

“This line of thinking is, however, sadly consistent with the new woke-mob mentality that you should cancel anyone who disagrees with your views,” he wrote. “Your baseless allegations are in that sense unfortunately typical of today’s leftwing cancel culture, a culture that tramples on the democratic traditions that left and right once defended together.”

Hawley also echoed that sentiment in a cover essay published by The New York Post on Monday, where claimed he has been “canceled” and “muzzled” over his attempts to stop the Democratic election of President Joe Biden from being certified.

Both the letter and the article attracted significant backlash online and in the media. In a particularly scathing critique, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon condemned Hawley for claiming he was being censored.

“No one has muzzled Josh Hawley. What happened to Josh Hawley isn’t cancel culture. It’s called consequences,” Lemon said. “That’s how the First Amendment works. Say whatever you want, but you gotta pay the price if you say something stupid, or you do something stupid or treasonous, or if you try to overturn a duly elected president, right?”

“Don’t fall for this, people,” he continued. “Think about the actions in the Capitol. Think about what happened, think about the people who died, think about the cops who were beaten by people. Think about all that.”

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Vox) (CNN)

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Dominion Files $1.3 Billion Defamation Suit Against Rudy Giuliani

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  • Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company, including that the manufacturer led an effort to flip votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
  • The lawsuit alleges Giuliani, the former president’s personal lawyer, spread the disinformation in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast.
  • It also links his false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at a rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.
  • This is the second suit Dominion has filed against a Trump campaign lawyer, and an attorney for the company said it might bring similar cases against pro-Trump media outlets or Trump himself.

Dominion Sues Giuliani

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani, former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, seeking $1.3 billion in damages for false claims he made about the company.

Dominion, which is one of the largest voting machine manufacturers in the U.S., became the main target for widespread election fraud conspiracies spread by Giuliani and other Trump allies. Those individuals falsely claimed with no evidence that Dominion machines, widely used in key battleground states, were flipping votes from Trump to President Joe Biden.

Now, the company claims that Giuliani and his allies “manufactured and disseminated the Big Lie, which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election.”

The lawsuit alleges that he did this in large part to enrich himself through legal fees and his podcast. It notes that Trump’s top lawyer “reportedly demanded $20,000 per day” for his legal services to the president, and arguing that he “cashed in by hosting a podcast where he exploited election falsehoods to market gold coins, supplements, cigars and protection from ‘cyberthieves.’”

The 107-page suit also specifically outlines more than 50 statements Giuliani made on Twitter, his podcast, to the conservative media, and during legislative hearings. Notably, the company points out that he never mentioned Dominion in court where he could face legal ramifications because he knew what he was claiming was false.

Despite that, Giuliani continued to push the false narrative, even after Dominion sent him a letter in December warning they were going to take legal action against him. 

The lawsuit also links Giuliani’s false claims about Dominion to the Capitol insurrection, noting that he mentioned the company while speaking at the rally before the attack and on social media numerous times during.

According to reports, even after the insurrection, he has still continued to spread those falsities as recently as last week. 

“Dominion’s founder and employees have been harassed and have received death threats, and Dominion has suffered unprecedented and irreparable harm,” the court document states.

Other Defamation Cases

The case against Giuliani is not the first defamation suit Dominion has brought against Trump allies in recent weeks. 

Earlier this month, the company filed a similar claim against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell where it also sought $1.3 billion in damages over her false assertions that Dominion was part of a world-wide communist plot to rig the election.

Separately, one of Dominion’s top executives has also filed lawsuits against Giuliani, the Trump campaign, and several pro-Trump media outlets after he was forced into hiding due to conspiracies that he masterminded the plot to steal the election.

These cases could just be the start. According to NPR, an attorney for Dominion said it was possible that the company would file additional suits against pro-Trump media outlets — such as Fox News — and even potentially Trump himself.

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

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House To Send Impeachment Article Monday, Starting Impeachment Trial Process

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  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the impeachment trial process.
  • The news comes one day after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.
  • The senators could still come to their own agreement to delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs. 
  • Some Democrats have signaled support for this move because it would give them extra time to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominations before the trial starts.

Pelosi To Send Impeachment Article

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) will send the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump to the Senate on Monday.

The move will officially trigger the start of the impeachment trial process. The announcement comes one day after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) requested that the trial be delayed until mid-February so that Trump’s legal team could have two weeks to prepare.

Despite Pelosi’s decision, the senators still could come to their own agreement to start the ceremonial proceedings but delay the start of oral arguments and give Trump’s team more time to file pretrial briefs.

In fact, Democrats, who have been pushing for a schedule that would allow them to still confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees before the trial proceedings start each day, have signaled that they might not oppose a delay because it would give them extra time for confirmations.

During his announcement this morning, Schumer indicated that the details were still being hashed out.

“I’ve been speaking to the Republican leader about the timing and duration of the trial,” he said. “But make no mistake a trial will be held in the United States Senate and there will be a vote on whether to convict the president.” 

McConnell, for his part, responded by reiterating that his party will continue to press for Trump’s team to be given enough time.

“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House,” he said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense.”

While the leaders may not have worked out the particulars yet, according to reports, both parties have already agreed that this trial will be shorter than Trump’s first impeachment, which lasted three weeks.

Implications for Power-Sharing Deal

The new impeachment trial deadline could also speed up the currently stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell regarding how power will be shared in a Senate with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats effectively control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote, but she cannot always be there to resolve every dispute.

As a result, McConnell and Schumer have been working to come up with a power-sharing deal for day to day operations, similar to one that was struck in 2001 the last time the Senate was split 50-50. However, those negotiations have hit a roadblock: the legislative filibuster.

The filibuster is the long-standing Senate rule that requires a supermajority of at least 60 senators to vote to end debate on a given piece of legislation before moving to a full floor vote. Technically, all 50 Democrats and Vice President Harris could agree to change the rule to just require a simple majority to legislation advance, or what’s known as the “nuclear option.”

That move, in effect, would allow them to get through controversial legislation without any bipartisan support, as long as every Democrat stays within party lines. Many more progressive Democrats have pushed for this move, arguing that the filibuster stands in the way of many of their and Biden’s top priorities.

Given this possibility, McConnell has demanded that Democrats agree to protect the filibuster and promise not to pursue the nuclear option as part of the power-sharing deal. 

But top Democrats have rejected that demand, with many arguing that having the threat of filibuster is necessary to get Republicans to compromise.

In other words: if Republicans fear that Democrats will “go nuclear,” they will be more likely to agree to certain bills and measures to avoid that.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (The Wall Street Journal)

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