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Facebook and Twitter Take Action After Trump Downplays COVID-19 Threat

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  • On Tuesday, President Donald Trump compared COVID-19 to the yearly flu, telling Americans that “we are learning to live” with the coronavirus.
  • Despite this comparison, the coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 Americans — much more than the yearly flu — and no vaccine exists for it. On top of that, a COVID-19 resurgence during the flu season could potentially strain hospitals.
  • Shortly after posting the message on social media, Facebook removed the comment. While Twitter left it up, it flagged it as “misleading and potentially harmful.” 
  • That post follows another from Monday where Trump told Americans not to be afraid of the coronavirus. That post generated sharp criticism from medical experts and even celebrities like Chris Evans. 

Trump Compares COVID to the Flu

Facebook removed and Twitter flagged a post made by President Donald Trump on Tuesday that compared the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to seasonal flu deaths. 

“Flu season is coming up!” Trump wrote. “Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” 

Twitter, which flagged this tweet as “misleading and potentially harmful,” likely did so for multiple reasons. 

For one, in the last decade, each year, the flu has not accounted for over 100,000 deaths in the U.S. According to the CDC, the most was actually about 61,000 in the 2017-2018 flu season.

That is much less than the 210,000 Americans who have died from COVID this year alone. In fact, for U.S. flu deaths to outnumber this year’s COVID deaths, you would need to add together the last six flu seasons. 

Two, even if over 100,000 people each year did die from the flu, this would still not be a 1:1 comparison. That’s because there is still no widespread vaccine for COVID-19, unlike the flu. On top of that, while some people can express a level of immunity against the flu each year, COVID-19 is completely novel, making it much easier to spread. 

That’s not to say the flu isn’t important. Every year, it poses very serious health problems, but that’s particularly why such a comparison is dangerous.

Health experts, for months, have believed that this flu season could be critical to monitor. That’s because colder weather may bring a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, and that could lead to hospitals becoming strained as they have to deal with both COVID and the flu. 

Trump, for his part, has now again called for a repeal of the law that allows tech companies to flag or remove his posts.

Trump: “Don’t be afraid of COVID.”

That’s not the only social media post from Trump that has attracted attention and criticism.

On Monday, when announcing that he would be leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center later that evening, he said, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

While many of Trump’s supporters echoed this message, many others overwhelming condemned the comments, with some calling for Twitter and Facebook to take action against it. 

Dr. Bob Wachter, a physician and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, essentially called the comment “callous, inhumane, & counterproductive.” 

Emergency Physician Bernard P. Chang warned that medicine shouldn’t be practiced “by one-off anecdotes. Practice by data. And with over 210,000 souls lost, I’d remain VERY afraid.” 

Outside of medical professionals, actor Chris Evans explicitly noted the difference between Trump’s care and the everyday person’s care.

“Don’t be afraid of Covid?!” Evans said. “You’ve been under round-the-clock care by the best doctors using the best drugs. Do you really think everyone has access to that?! Sadly, I’m sure you’re aware of that disparity, you just don’t care. This is reckless to a shocking degree, even for you.”

Bill Goodykoontz, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, dubbed this as potentially the most irresponsible tweet from Trump ever. 

Neither Twitter nor Facebook — where this same message was also posted — have issued any kind of warning over this tweet. In fact, a Twitter spokesperson even said specifically that this tweet does not violate the company’s rules since it does not include a call to action that could potentially result in real-world harm.

Trump Appears to Struggle to Breathe Normally

After Trump returned to the White House, Trump stoked another level of controversy when he immediately removed his mask after climbing the steps to the building.

While this was very likely an attempt by Trump to show that he’d overcome the virus and that he had recovered, many have noted that the president appears to be struggling to breathe normally. 

“This is a textbook example of increased work of breathing” Dr. Ilan Schwartz tweeted. “In addition to using normal respiratory muscles… ‘accessory muscles’ in his neck are kicking in to help draw a breath.” 

Minutes later, when Trump turned to enter the White House, he remained maskless as he walked into the building. Notably, other people could be seen inside. 

White House Denies CDC Contact Tracing Help

Trump isn’t the only high-profile Republican to contract COVID-19 in the last few days.

Others such as  Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC.) and Mike Lee (R-Ut.), RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, former Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, First Lady Melania Trump, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have all tested positive. Additionally, multiple White House staffers and journalists have also tested positive. 

Currently, it’s believed that all of these cases are connected. Because of that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday offered to lead a contact tracing effort to track down and notify people who were exposed to this outbreak.

On Monday, the White House rejected that offer.

“The White House has plans and procedures in place that incorporate current CDC guidelines and best practices for limiting COVID-19 exposure and has established a robust contact tracing program led by the White House Medical Unit with CDC integration,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere said. 

Another White House official added that a CDC epidemiologist, who’s been working with the administration since March, is assisting the effort.

However, Michael Shear, a journalist with The New York Times who covers the White House and who has now tested positive for the coronavirus told CNN, “I have not been contacted by the White House,”

“Nobody from the White House has said ‘boo’ and asked anything about where I was or who I talked to or who else I might have infected.”

Shear added that the lack of followup “just shows you that… they’re not taking it seriously, at least as it pertains to themselves.”

Similarly, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has said the health department hasn’t received any response from the White House, despite multiple attempts to do so.

In fact, even within the White House itself, while the coronavirus has taken off, information on what to do has reportedly been slow to spread. For example, it took three days for staffers to receive any kind of response as to what they should do if they start experiencing symptoms.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (USA Today) (CNN)

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

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

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

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

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More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging

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The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.


GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push

In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.

Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.

Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.

“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.

The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.

Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation

There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.

While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.

“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.

Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.

Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.

Uphill Battle

While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.

Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor. 

As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.

The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not. 

Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant. 

Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.

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

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