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CDC Instructs Health Officials to Prepare to Distribute a COVID-19 Vaccine by Nov. 1, Furthering Concerns of Political Influence

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  • In a document obtained Wednesday by The New York Times, CDC Director Robert Redfield instructed state and local health officials to be ready to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as soon as Nov. 1, two days before the 2020 Elections.
  • The following day, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the projected goal has “nothing to do with elections,” but concerns from health experts have persisted because President Donald Trump has repeatedly pushed for a vaccine ahead of the elections.
  • Health officials have also expressed hesitation that adequate data will be available by next month, with Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that a vaccine by that time is “conceivable” but unlikely.

CDC Pushes Nov. 1 Vaccine Release

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has instructed state and local health officials to prepare to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as early as Nov. 1. 

The information was obtained by The New York Times Wednesday from a CDC document. In that document, which is dated Aug. 27, Redfield told health officials to prepare to distribute up to 3 million doses of vaccines by the end of next month, 20 to 30 million by the end of November, and 35 to 45 million by the end of the year. 

Source: The New York Times

In a separate document also released Wednesday, Redfield urged states to begin developing plans for how to proceed with early vaccinations. That includes determining which groups should be prioritized for the vaccine. Health-care workers and other at-risk groups would likely be up first.

Redfield said that the CDC “if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming fully operational by November 1, 2020.”

Are the CDC and FDA Rushing a Vaccine for Election Day?

The November 1 goal, just two days before Election Day, has raised questions and concerns from experts, as many are worried that such a date might not be feasible.

Thursday morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar denied that the CDC’s goal date is politically motivated.

“It has nothing to do with elections,” Azar told CBS News. “This has to do with delivering safe, effective vaccines to the American people as quickly as possible and saving people’s lives. Whether it’s Oct. 15, whether it’s Nov. 1, whether it’s Nov 15, it’s all about saving lives but meeting the FDA standards of safety and efficacy.”

Criticism and concern that that President Donald Trump is pressuring agencies like the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to rush a vaccine by cutting corners is nothing new.

Both Trump’s admiration for hydroxychloroquine and plasma recovered from COVID-19 patients have been called into question, as neither have been proven to be safe and effective. Trump has also openly said that a vaccine could be ready as early as Election Day.

On Sunday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the FDA could authorize a vaccine before clinical 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.”

While Hahn indicated that benefits would still need to outweigh risks for that to happen, his willingness to do so — coupled with the previous concerns — led many to question whether he is potentially skirting the scientific process because of the president.

Still, Hahn has denied that his statement means the FDA will submit to Trump’s pressure.

Why There Is Concern About Vaccines Being Rushed

Hydroxychloroquine and plasma are therapeutics. While evidence of their safety and effectiveness is still important, therapeutics are generally given to people who are already sick and might not have any other options.

Vaccines, on the other hand, are given to people who are healthy to keep them from getting sick, so scientists need to have a much higher standard of proof that they’re safe.

There are currently three in the U.S. that have entered Phase 3 trials: the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines. Of those, Moderna is still in the process of recruiting subjects, and it’s unknown when it could start showing results.

AstraZeneca began its Phase 3 trial Monday, with the full experiment expected to last eight weeks because its vaccine must be given in two doses, each given a month apart. The company has stated that it does not expect preliminary results until around Thanksgiving. 

Thus, as many experts noted to the Associated Press, they do not understand how adequate data will be available by Nov. 1 to prove that these two vaccines are safe and effective.

“Being ready is reasonable. Cutting short phase 3 trials before you get the information you need isn’t,” Dr. Paul Offit, an immunization expert who sits on the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told the outlet.

Is a Vaccine by Nov. 1 Possible?

It is possible that some preliminary results might be available as soon as next month. For example, Pfizer has said that it’s on track to seek government review in October.

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.

“If there are a certain amount of infections within a particular trial, it’s conceivable that you could have [a vaccine] by October, but I don’t think that’s likely,” Fauci told CNN on Thursday.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Politico) (Associated Press)

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Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan

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  • President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
  • Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
  • The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.

Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan

President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.

Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.

Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.

Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.

Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.

Broader Goals

As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.

Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.

The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.

Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.

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

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Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters

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  • More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
  • The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
  • The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.” 
  • Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.

Demands for Investigation

Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.

In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack. 

In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.

They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.

The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”

Members Under Fire

Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.

In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection. 

Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.

“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”

While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.

“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”

Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”

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

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House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History

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  • The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
  • Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
  • Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
  • McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.

House Debates Impeachment

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.

All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.

The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.

Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.

“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.

Questionable Path in Senate

No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”

Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.

McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.

As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump. 

Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.

In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.

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

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