The Past 24 Hours or So

Read Time: 10 Minutes

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates

  • When asked in a new interview why the U.S. has such a high mortality rate from coronavirus compared to other nations, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it’s due in part to communities with significant health issues, “in particular African American, minority communities particularly at risk here because of significant underlying disease health disparities and disease comorbidities.”
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar rebuked a senior White House aide who blamed the CDC for early coronavirus testing problems, calling those comments “inaccurate and inappropriate.”

Azar’s criticism of the remarks came a day after Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump’s trade adviser, said the CDC “really let down the country” and set back efforts to combat the virus by bungling the rollout of the first diagnostic test. Navarro’s attack on the CDC was seen as a sign of the White House’s mounting frustration with the health agency, which has been unusually sidelined during the pandemic.

  • The first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the virus, its manufacturer, Moderna announced on Monday.

The findings are based on results from the first eight people who each received two doses of the vaccine, starting in March.

Those people, healthy volunteers, made antibodies that were then tested in human cells in the lab, and were able to stop the virus from replicating — the key requirement for an effective vaccine. The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies matched the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.

  • As the House has passed a phase four coronavirus package with more cash checks to Americans, more funding for COVID-19 testing and other economic relief, the White House says it wants to wait and see before approving a phase four deal. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said: “It’s possible that we will see a strong-enough economy that we don’t need a phase four.”
  • The unemployment rate spiked to 14.7 percent in the month of April and Hassett has predicted it could exceed 20 percent.
  • President Donald Trump said that he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment for COVID-19 that he has vigorously promoted.

“A lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy. A lot of good things have come out. You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers — before you catch it,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. “I happen to be taking it, I happen to be taking it… I’m taking it hydroxychloroquine, right now.”

Trump said he does not believe he was exposed to the virus but decided to take the drug after consulting with the White House physician. He also claimed that essential workers, including doctors and nurses, were taking the drug to prevent contracting the disease caused by coronavirus.

The FDA has warned against the drug’s use for COVID-19 outside of a hospital setting due to a risk of serious heart problems.

  • President Trump’s physician on Monday confirmed that the president is now taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine despite not having the coronavirus, saying he and Trump concluded “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans a nationwide study of up to 325,000 people to track how the new coronavirus is spreading across the country into next year and beyond, a CDC spokeswoman and researchers conducting the effort told Reuters.

The CDC study, expected to launch in June or July, will test samples from blood donors in 25 metropolitan areas for antibodies created when the immune system fights the coronavirus, said Dr. Michael Busch, director of the nonprofit Vitalant Research Institute.

  • President Trump slammed Fox News after host Neil Cavuto issued a warning for people to be careful about the potentially deadly effects of hydroxychloroquine for those with specific underlying health conditions.

“We miss the great Roger Ailes,” Trump Tweeted. “You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!”

  • The coronavirus has killed at least 90,000 people in the U.S.

The death toll, based on Johns Hopkins data, is by far the largest in the world, though numbers from China have been met with skepticism. Following the U.S., the United Kingdom is second in official deaths with nearly 35,000, followed by Italy with roughly 32,000.

  • President Trump rejected an invitation to speak at a virtual meeting of the World Health Organization, a body that he has repeatedly targeted over its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’ll be giving them a statement sometime in the near future. But I chose not to give a statement,” Trump told reporters Monday. “I think they’ve done a very sad job in the last period of time.”

  • The Treasury Department said Monday that it is starting to deliver nearly 4 million coronavirus relief payments to taxpayers via prepaid debit card, rather than paper check.
  • The Trump administration is urging states to proceed with “extreme caution” in reopening nursing homes, advising them to relax restrictions at the facilities much later than those on other businesses in the surrounding communities.

The new guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services outlines three separate phases that build off the White House guidelines for state reopenings, but recommends that no nursing home in any state should start to reopen or relax any restrictions until all residents and staff have received a base-line negative test.

  • President Trump threatened to permanently halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization if the body does not commit to “major substantive improvements” in the next 30 days.

The president, in a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, levied a series of allegations that the global health entity overlooked or ignored various warning signs about the coronavirus and criticized its stance toward China during the pandemic.

“We do not have time to waste,” he wrote. “That is why it is my duty, as President of the United States, to inform you that, if the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”

Other Administration News 

  • CNN’s Kaitlan Collins clashed with President Trump after he called her a “CNN Faker!” in a tweet that included a video of the White House correspondent removing her mask in the James S. Brady briefing room immediately after a press conference ended on Friday.

The back-and-forth came after a C-SPAN video feed showed Collins removing her protective mask as other reporters in the room kept theirs on while exiting the indoor briefing room.

“A CNN Faker!” President Trump tweeted

Collins responded in a Tweet: “Nearly 90,000 Americans have been killed by coronavirus, and the president is tweeting about me pulling my mask down for six seconds on Friday.” 

  • The State Department inspector general who was fired by President Donald Trump late Friday night, Steve Linick, was investigating the president’s effort to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval, according to Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A congressional aide said State Department officials were recently briefed about Linick’s conclusions in his investigation of the Saudi arms sales, and that Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the inspector general’s office.

“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia. We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Engel said in a statement.

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Washington Post on Monday that he had recommended that State Department Inspector General Steve Linick be fired because the independent watchdog was “undermining” the department and wasn’t performing in a way that the top US diplomat wanted him to.

“I went to the President and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to,” Pompeo said. He continued, “It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation, rather, to the President, rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on,” Pompeo said. “Because I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it.”

  • Addressing allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a State Department staffer to run personal errands — allegations that were being investigated by the Inspector General before his firing — President Trump dismissed their severity of the accusations saying: “I’d rather have [Pompeo] on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there.”
  • Attorney General Barr says that he does not expect the Durham probe to lead to any  investigations of either former President Barack Obama or former VP Joe Biden. Barr said that “the concern of potential criminality” during the origins of Trump-Russia probe “is focused on others.”
  • President Trump has pushed for a criminal investigation into former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, but on Monday Attorney General Barr said he didn’t believe the Justice Department would have reason to launch such probes. Now, President Trump is calling the statement a “surprise” and doubling down: “I have no doubt that they were involved in this hoax, one of the worst things ever befall to this country in terms of political scandal…. It was a takedown of a president, regardless of me, it happened to be me, and in my opinion it was an illegal takedown.”
  • President Trump revealed plans to nominate Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, as a new U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., an office that has been at the center of controversial Department of Justice moves this year benefiting the president’s political allies. The office has played a key role in dropping charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the department’s pursuit of a lighter sentence for Trump’s longtime political ally Roger Stone.
  • President Trump slammed the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board on Monday, a day after it warned him against being “impulsive” when making decisions on Afghanistan.

“The Wall Street Journal Editorial states that it doesn’t want me to act in an ‘impulsive’ manner in Afghanistan. Could somebody please explain to them that we have been there for 19 years, and while soldier counts are way down now, hardly impulsive,” the president tweeted.

“Besides, the Taliban is mixed about even wanting us to get out,” Trump added. “They make a fortune $$$ by having us stay, and except at the beginning, we never really fought to win. We are more of a police force than the mighty military that we are, especially now as rebuilt. No, I am not acting impulsively!”

  • Federal investigators found a link between al Qaeda and the Saudi cadet behind the deadly shooting at a U.S. military base in Florida last year.

The FBI found evidence linking the gunman in the Pensacola shooting, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, to al Qaeda, CNN, The New York Times and The Associated Press reported. 

The FBI found that Alshamrani had communicated with an al Qaeda operative who had encouraged the attack, two officials told the Times.

Alshamrani, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who was enrolled in a Naval Air Station Pensacola training program, was killed by law enforcement during the attack.

  • Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette is accusing major U.S. banks of discriminating against the oil and gas industry, comparing their refusal to finance Arctic drilling projects to tactics used to prevent minorities from buying homes.

In an interview with Axios published Monday, Brouillette charged that some of the largest banks were “redlining” the oil and gas industry by declining to finance new drilling in parts of northeast Alaska.

  • A federal judge in the Southern District of New York has refused to stay a lawsuit alleging that Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and the Trump Corporation committed “various business torts,” including engaging in an illegal pyramid scheme.

The class action plaintiffs allege that the Trump family business promoted a multi-level marketing, or pyramid, scheme known as ACN Opportunity, LLC. ACN, the plaintiffs said, was a “get-rich-quick scheme” that relied on Trump and his family “conn[ing] each of these victims into giving up hundreds or thousands of dollars,” in violation of various state laws

Sources:  ABC News, Axios, CBS News, CNN, Financial Times, Fox News,The Hill, NBC News, NPR, NY Times, Politico, Reuters, Salon, Vanity Fair, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

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