The Past 24 Hours or So

Read Time: 10 minutes

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates

  • The more than 40,000 National Guard members deployed to states to help in coronavirus relief will end up one day short of qualifying for federal benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill once President Trump’s executive order deploying them expires on June 24.

An official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in an interagency call, reported on by Politico, that the guardsmen will face a “hard stop” on June 24 to prevent them from reaching the 90 days of duty credit needed to qualify for early retirement and education benefits.

Deployed in late March, on June 24 most will hit 89 days of duty credit.

  • During a Senate committee hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin over the Treasury Department’s handling of a $500 billion emergency loan fund to help companies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with Warren pressing him to make sure companies that get relief money don’t continue to fire or lay off workers, and demanding that executives who lie about the condition of their company to secure taxpayer dollars be held criminally liable.
  • VP Pence says he is not taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment for COVID-19 that President Trump said Monday he is taking himself.
  • President Trump defended his decision to take hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against the coronavirus, saying it’s an individual decision but that he believes it provides “an additional level of safety” despite warnings that the drug can cause heart problems.

“I think it gives you an additional level of safety,” Trump told reporters after attending a Senate GOP lunch. “But you can ask many doctors who are in favor of it. Many front-line workers won’t go there unless they have the hydroxy.”

  • The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that he believes the U.S. is ready to begin reopening, even as he acknowledged the need to invest further in the nation’s public health infrastructure and expand contact tracing to avoid sustained outbreaks.

“I want to clarify that the community-based transmission, the community-to-community transmission that overwhelmed the public health departments in late February, March, April, that’s really coming down,” Redfield said in an interview.

The challenge, he said, will be ensuring the country has enough testing and contact tracing for a potential second wave of the virus in the fall and winter months, which would coincide with the annual influenza season.

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Tuesday that the economy could suffer long-term damage without further congressional action on the coronavirus pandemic, but differed over how the country and its leaders should tackle that challenge.

Mnuchin argued that with unemployment at 14.7 percent, the U.S. must find ways to swiftly reopen businesses and bring workers back with adequate protections before the economy slips into a spiral of job losses and contraction.

While Powell did not directly dispute Mnuchin’s call to reopen the economy, he said doing so may mean little if Americans aren’t ready for it.

  • The IRS plans to bring some employees in Texas, Utah and Kentucky back to the agency’s facilities starting June 1 to perform work that cannot be done remotely, the agency’s commissioner, Charles Rettig, said in a message to employees.
  • President Trump said he sees the increasing rate of coronavirus cases in the U.S. as a “badge of honor” because it’s an indication of the country’s testing capacity. 

“When we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing, I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing,” Trump told reporters. “Because it means our testing is much better.”

“I view it as a badge of honor, really, it’s a badge of honor.”

NOTE: The United States ranks eleventh in per capita tests performed out of the most impacted countries worldwide as of May 19. 

  • An executive order signed by President Trump Tuesday directs agencies to consider what sort of deregulatory action they might take that could spur economic growth.

The order directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” highlighting that regulations could be permanently or temporarily lifted.

  • The Trump administration finalized a rule that would allow it to extend the coronavirus border restrictions indefinitely. 

The move amends and extends a rule already in place that allows the administration to close borders for public health reasons, as it has. The new provisions would ban the “introduction of certain aliens” until the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the coronavirus no longer poses a threat to public health.

  • The Lancet medical journal knocked President Trump for a “factually incorrect” statement in his letter warning of World Health Organization funding cuts.  

The medical journal released a statement saying Trump’s claim that the journal published reports in December 2019 or earlier about a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, were wrong. 

“This statement is factually incorrect,” the journal said in a statement posted on Twitter. “The Lancet published no report in December, 2019, referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China.”

“The allegations levelled against WHO in President Trump’s letter are serious and damaging to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control this pandemic,” The Lancet’s statement said. “It is essential that any review of the global response is based on a factually accurate account of what took place in December and January.”

  • A leaked Pentagon memo revealed that top Department of Defense officials have been planning for the possibility that the military could be dealing with a “globally-persistent” coronavirus pandemic well into 2021.

The memo, obtained by Task & Purpose, also warned of the “real possibility” that a vaccine for COVID-19 won’t be available until “at least the summer of 2021.”

“We have a long path ahead, with the real possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19. Therefore, we must now re-focus our attention on resuming critical missions, increasing levels of activity, and making necessary preparations should a significant resurgence of COVID-19 occur later this year,” it read.

Other Administration News 

  • In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced concerns over President Trump taking hydroxychloroquine. Pelosi said she would prefer the president wouldn’t take a drug not approved by scientists, “Especially in his age group and his, shall we say, weight group, which is morbidly obese, they say.”
  • President Trump criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her a “sick woman” and a “waste of time” after the lawmaker labeled him “morbidly obese” in a television interview a day prior.

“I don’t respond to her. I think she’s a waste of time,” Trump told reporters on Capitol Hill when asked for his response to Pelosi’s remarks during a CNN interview Monday evening.

Later, in response to an unrelated question about the case involving his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump lashed out at Pelosi, “Pelosi is a sick woman. She’s got a lot of problems, a lot of mental problems. We’re dealing with people that have to get their act together for the good of the country,” Trump said.

  • Speaker Pelosi defended her comment claiming that President Trump could be at greater risk of complications from taking an unproven coronavirus treatment because he is “morbidly obese,” adding, “I didn’t know that he would be so sensitive. He’s always talking about other people’s … weight, their pounds.” “I think he should recognize that his words weigh a ton.”
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will place sanctions on Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited, a Chinese company, for providing general sales agent services to Mahan Air, an Iranian airline designated by the U.S. as an entity that supports terrorism.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the State Department inspector general’s office as part of its probe into the administration’s move to bypass Congress and expedite last year’s $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia by declaring an emergency. 
  • In a letter sent to Congress on Friday, Trump said Inspector General Linick’s removal would be effective in “30 days,” giving him time to wind down his investigations. But Linick has since been told that he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work.
  • A federal judge has rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss a challenge to its rollback of endangered species protections, ruling late Monday that the 17-state lawsuit can proceed.

The August rule significantly weakens protections under the landmark Endangered Species Act, allowing economic factors to be weighed before adding an animal to the list and limiting how aspects such as climate change can be considered in listing decisions.

It also weakens protections for threatened species that are at risk of becoming endangered.

  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam fired back at President Trump Tuesday after the president referred to Northam as “crazy” and an opponent of Second Amendment rights.

Trump, speaking at a White House event, followed a speaker from Virginia by saying, “We’re going after Virginia, with your crazy governor, we’re going after Virginia. They want to take your Second Amendment. You know that, right? You’ll have nobody guarding your potatoes.”

“I grew up on a Virginia farm, Mr. President — our potatoes are fine. And as the only medical doctor among our nation’s governors, I suggest you stop taking hydroxychloroquine,” Northam tweeted. “Let’s all get back to work.”

  • The tradition of presidents unveiling the official White House portrait of their predecessor will not take place under President Trump, according to NBC News, citing people familiar with the matter.

Former President Obama is uninterested in participating in the tradition with Trump in office, while Trump has lately stepped up his attacks on his predecessor and accused him of unspecified crimes.

  • In a closed-door meeting with Republican senators, President Trump reportedly called for lawmakers to be tougher as the election approaches, admonishing them for not being “as tough” as Democrats and encouraged senators to continue pursuing so-called “Obamagate” and probes of Obama-era officials.
  • The Trump administration declassified an email that former national security adviser Susan Rice sent on President Trump’s inauguration day about an Oval Office meeting in which the Russia investigation was discussed, as Senate Republicans press for an investigation into Obama-era officials.
  • A North Dakota construction company that previously was praised by President Trump has been awarded a $1.3 billion border wall contract by the administration, the largest border wall contract the federal government has issued.

Fisher Sand and Gravel, the winning firm, will be constructing the wall on a 42-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border south of Tucson, Ariz., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Raini Brunson told The Washington Post.

  • The Senate voted to confirm Texas attorney Trey Trainor to serve on the Federal Election Commission, giving the agency the quorum it needs to conduct business for the first time since August.
  • The White House formally withdrew Chuck Canterbury’s nomination to lead the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

The Trump administration sent notice to Congress that it is pulling the nomination, which has been stuck in limbo since September amid opposition from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • Taliban attacks on Afghan forces were high in the first three months of the year even with a one-week reduction in violence ahead of the Trump administration signing a withdrawal deal with the insurgents, a U.S. government watchdog said.

“The United States and Taliban agreed to a one-week reduction in violence prior to the signing of the agreement, but Taliban violence during the quarter overall was high,” acting Pentagon Inspector General Sean O’Donnell wrote in a report. 

  • Unemployment will average 9.3 percent next year, according to new projections from the Congressional Budget Office .

The nonpartisan agency forecast that the unemployment rate would peak at 15.8 percent next quarter and drop to 11.5 percent at year’s end, painting a bleak economic picture.

Unemployment would eventually dip down to 8.6 percent by the end of 2021, but the average for the year would hold at 9.3 percent.

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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