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Trump Contradicts CDC Director on Vaccine Timeline

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  • CDC Director Robert Redfield said that because a COVID-19 vaccine would go to first responders and high-risk populations first, the country not start seeing immunity in the general public until the end of next year.
  • Redfield also said wearing masks is more effective than a vaccine could be and encouraged people to do so.
  • President Trump contradicted Redfield later in the day, saying that he made a mistake and misunderstood both the questions about vaccines and masks.
  • Trump said a vaccine will be ready for the entire general public by October and 100 million people would be vaccinated by the end of the year — both a date and a number most experts have said are impossible. He also said the vaccine would be more effective than masks, though he did not provide any evidence for this claim.
  • The incident sparked renewed accusations that Trump has been pressuring his health officials and scientists to rush the vaccine timeline so there is an inoculation before Election Day.

Redfield’s Testimony

President Donald Trump directly contradicted the scientific findings of the health officials in his own administration Wednesday regarding the timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine and the efficacy of face masks.

The president’s remarks came just hours after Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified before a Senate committee. There, he said the American public will likely not see the effects of immunity effects of a vaccine until the middle of next year. He also highlighted the importance of mask-wearing in preventing further spread.

“I think there will be a vaccine that initially be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized,” he said. “If you’re asking me, when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life? I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.” 

Redfield then went on to clarify that the vaccine will initially go to first responders and people who are at higher risk before being distributed to the wider public, a factor that he said will create a lag between when the vaccine is approved and when we will start seeing measurable public immunity.

“I think we have to assume that if we had a vaccine, say, released today, that it’s going to take us probably in the order of six to nine months to get the American public vaccinated,” he told the Senators. “And in order to have enough of us immunized, so we have immunity, I think it’s going to take us six to nine months.” 

Redfield also emphasized the importance of continuing mitigation efforts in the meantime, like hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks.

“Face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have,” he said, encouraging Americans to embrace them. “I’ve said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control.”

“These actually, we have clear, scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense,” he continued. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” 

Redfield’s remarks, specifically regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, have been described as by far the most detailed time frame that the leader of the main public health agency has provided in regards to a vaccine and immunity.

Last week, the CDC told health agencies that 2 million vaccine doses might be available by the end of October, with the possibility that there could be 10 to 20 million doses ready available by November and 20 to 30 million by the end of the year.

Those general timelines for both vaccine distribution and immunity put forth by the CDC are also consistent with what other top experts have said, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“It won’t be until we get into 2021 that you’ll have hundreds of millions of doses, and just the logistics, constraints in vaccinating large numbers of people,” Fauci told CNN earlier this week.  “It’s going to take months to get enough people vaccinated to have an umbrella of immunity over the community so that you don’t have to worry about easy transmission.”

Trump Press Conference

While speaking at his press conference, Trump directly refuted Redfields remarks and provided a very different timeline for vaccine distribution.

“We’re on track to deliver and distribute the vaccine in a very, very safe and effective manner. We think we can start sometime in October,” he said. “So as soon as it is announced, we’ll be able to start. That’ll be from mid-October on. It may be a little bit later than that, but we’ll be all set.” 

“We’ll be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020 and a large number much sooner than that,” he added.

When asked if he agreed about Redfield’s timeline, Trump said that he did not, and that he thought the CDC director “made a mistake” in his comments.

“I called him, and he didn’t tell me that, and I think he got the message maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly,” he added.

“We’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced,” Trump continued. “We will start distributing it immediately to the general public.”

“When we go, we go. We’re not looking to say, ‘Gee, in six months, we’re going to start giving it to the general public.’ No, we want to go immediately. No, it was an incorrect statement.” 

Many public health officials and experts even beyond Redfield have repeatedly disputed the president’s optimistic vaccine timeline, but Trump’s comments about vaccines are not the only remarks he made at the press conference that run counter to public health advice.

Trump also refuted Redfield’s comments regarding masks being more effective than a vaccine, saying that wearing a face mask is “not more effective, by any means, than a vaccine.”

He continued to say that he spoke to Redfield about his testimony, and again offered the explanation that the CDC director misunderstood the question he was asked and that he made a mistake.

“The mask is not as important as the vaccine,” Trump said, adding that masks have “problems” and are “a mixed bag,” citing waiters at restaurants touching their masks then touching food. Notably, he did not provide any evidence for his claim that a vaccine would be more effective than universal masking.

In Redfield’s explanation of why he believed wearing a mask may be more effective than a vaccine, the CDC director pointed to the fact that a coronavirus vaccine will likely not be fully effective. Very few vaccines are close to 100% effective, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said a coronavirus vaccine will only need to be 50% effective to gain their approval.

Most experts do expect the vaccine to have slightly more efficacy than that, but not by much. By contrast, there is a growing body of evidence that shows masks are highly effective in preventing spread, and if a large majority of the public wore masks, transmission would drop significantly.

It is not unusual for Trump to cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks — despite significant evidence to the contrary — but experts have said it is dangerous to present a COVID-19 vaccine as a cure-all that will mitigate the need for other precautions.

“It is overwhelmingly likely that the first COVID-19 vaccine will not be a silver bullet. Rather, it will be one more weapon against the disease to add to our arsenal,” Mother Jones wrote Wednesday. “It’s like getting dressed for a blizzard, where each intervention—in this case, masks, social distancing, and eventually a vaccine—will work in tandem to protect you.”

Concerns Over Rushed Timeline

Trump’s remarks prompted renewed allegations that he is intentionally rushing to get a vaccine out before Election Day, and that he is pressuring or pressuring his own appointees and scientists to do so.

This is not a new idea at all, just one that Trump added more fuel to. Earlier this month, the CDC told states to begin preparing for a “large-scale” distribution of vaccines by Nov. 1 — just two days before the election.

In August, the head of the Food and Drug Administration also floated the idea of the agency using emergency authority to approve one of the three vaccines in the final stages of testing before clinical trials end. 

Both directives prompted numerous people to question whether those decisions were made because of political interference from Trump, and his most recent comments simply bolstered those claims.

While speaking at a townhall event Wednesday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden raised the possibility that Trump is pressuring his health officials to sign off on a COVID-19 vaccine they might not be confident with to get an advantage in the election. He also argued that Trump’s focus on the election calendar when it comes to the vaccine damages his credibility.

“Let me be clear: I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” he said. “And at this moment, the American people can’t either.”

“We can’t allow politics to interfere with the vaccine in any way,” Biden said later that same day. “[Trump] doesn’t have any respect for science. This is the same guy who said, inject bleach. This is the guy who said, if you want to keep hurricanes from getting to the United States, drop a nuclear weapon on them.”

Trump, for his part, has taken up a new strategy when it comes to these allegations. In his press conference Wednesday, he accused Biden of promoting what he called “anti-vaccine theories.”

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

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Iran and Russia Obtained Voter Data for Election Meddling, U.S. Officials Say

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  • Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
  • Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
  • Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
  • Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
  • Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign. 

U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them. 

The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.

In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.

That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.” 

“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.

Ratcliffe Criticism

Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.

But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.

Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.

Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.

Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.

As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.

Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims

It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.

Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.

Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.

“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.” 

Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.” 

Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.

This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.

That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”

“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.

The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.

“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.” 

“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.

To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”

As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”

A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement. 

“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.

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

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Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Despite Democratic Boycott

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  • Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee bypassed rules Thursday, voting to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The vote was 12-0 because Democrats boycotted the session in protest, leaving posters in their seats of people they say will be negatively impacted if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and helps strike down the Affordable Care Act in a case the court will hear November 10.
  • The nomination now will move to the full Senate, with a final vote to confirm Barrett happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after Trump nominated her and just eight days before the election.

Democrats Protest Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.

Republicans skirted the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest. The committee requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business, but Democrats remained firm in their opposition to selecting a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. 

Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week’s hearing– people who they argued would be negatively affected if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and possibly helps it strike down the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s significant because on November 10, the court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare. 

However, their protest was largely symbolic since Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett in either the committee or the full Senate. 

Experts say they’re mostly trying to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation and show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.

What Comes Next?

As far as what comes next, the nomination now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that he’s taking the rare step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend in order to limit the opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.

By Friday, procedural votes are expected, with a final vote to confirm Barret happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after President Trump nominated her.

If all goes to plan, Trump and his fellow Republicans will have raced to win this battle just eight days before the election, making Barrett the first justice in history to be confirmed so close to Election Day.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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Voters in 4 States Received Emails Threatening Them To “Vote for Trump or Else!”

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  • Democratic voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania received threatening emails telling them to vote for Trump or else the Proud Boys would “come after” them. 
  • The email came from a domain associated with the Proud Boys, but the group denied that it had any involvement and said that the website in question was no longer in use because it had been dropped by Google Cloud services.
  • According to The Washington Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it left it unsecured, meaning anyone online could take control of it.
  • Multiple outlets that reviewed the emails also reported that the messages did not come from the email address listed, but rather from foreign internet servers.

Threatening Emails

Registered Democrats in four different states — including three hotly contested swing states — were sent threatening emails Tuesday from an address that appeared to be affiliated with the far-right group the Proud Boys. The message warned recipients that if they did not vote for President Donald Trump, the group would “come after” them.

According to a screenshot of the email obtained by CBS News, the subject line of the message reads “Vote for Trump or else!”

“We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything),” the body of the email said. The sender went on to claim they know the recipient of the email is a Democrat because they “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” 

Source: CBS News

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” the email continued. “Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you.”

Outlets that obtained copies of the email also reported that it concluded with the home address of the recipients they were sent to. Currently, voters in Alaska, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania have reported receiving the threatening messages.

It remains unclear how many went out in total, but it does appear that most of them were sent to people in Florida and Alaska. In Alaska, local news outlets reported that the emails went out to over a dozen people. In Florida, a University of Florida spokesperson said that they knew of at least 183 Floridians who got the messages.

Officials in both states also announced that they have launched investigations, and the FBI was also looking into the matter.

Proud Boys Deny Involvement

While the sender’s address is listed info@officialproudboys.com, a domain associated with the Proud Boys, the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, immediately denied that they had any involvement.

“We don’t send emails. This is someone spoofing our emails and website,” he told reporters. “We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group.”

Tarrio also told The Washington Post that the group has been in the process of migrating from officialproudboys.com to another site. In fact, they said officialproudboys.com has not been used for weeks because that domain was recently dropped by a hosting company that uses Google Cloud services after concerns were raised about the group.

According to The Post, when the hosting service dropped the domain, it appeared to just be left unsecured, and thus “allowing anyone on the Internet to take control of it and use it to send out the menacing messages.”

Numerous outlets that reviewed the emails also said that they did not come from the email address that was displayed, but rather from foreign internet servers. According to CBS, the metadata from the emails they analyzed showed that the messages originated from IP addresses connected to servers in Estonian, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

While experts noted that the IP addresses do not necessarily mean that the senders were based in those countries because they could have routed the emails from almost anywhere, some cybersecurity experts have pointed to the possibility of foreign interference to sow chaos in the election.

“We’re 2 weeks from the last day to vote! This is also the perfect time for adversaries to create chaos by spreading bogus claims or overstating activity,” Chris Krebs, the director of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeting, noting that his office was aware of the emails.

“Ballot secrecy is guaranteed by law in all states,” he continued. “These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections.”

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

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