Roll Call exclusive: States plan to independently vet COVID-19 vaccine data

September 18, 2020

Governors, including New York’s Andrew Cuomo, are publicly raising doubts about the FDA’s and the CDC’s ability to withstand pressure from President Donald Trump to develop a coronavirus vaccine at warp speed, Roll Call reported exclusively on September 17.

Those same officials are expressing skepticism about federal reviews of potential COVID-19 vaccines—with some going so far as to plan to independently analyze clinical trial data before distributing a vaccine, in a sign of how sharply trust in federal health agencies has fallen this year.

The wariness—which public health experts call highly unusual if not unprecedented—could undercut the goal of a cohesive national immunization strategy and create a patchwork of efforts that may sabotage hopes of containing the coronavirus.

State plans to review the data indicate how deeply any appearance of political meddling could disrupt vaccination and cost lives Roll Call says.

And it’s not a surprise that some red states appear more likely to rely on the Trump Administration, while blue states may scour the data and be more cautious about vaccinating their residents immediately.

CQ Roll Call contacted state health departments in 50 states and the District of Columbia and received substantive responses from a dozen:

  • Seven jurisdictions indicated that they would analyze the data independently: California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Michigan, New York, Oregon and West Virginia.
  • Another two—Montana and Wyoming—said they would only administer a vaccine that completed clinical trials and an outside committee’s review.
  • Three states —Arizona, Georgia and Oklahoma— indicated they would accept federal recommendations as usual.

 “The president says he’s going to have a vaccine. CDC is talking about a vaccine in early November. How convenient. It’s going to be an Election Day miracle drug,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said earlier this month.

Cuomo referenced the FDA’s emergency use authorization earlier this year of a drug touted by Trump, hydroxychloroquine, which the agency later withdrew after finding the drug was not effective against COVID-19 and could lead to dangerous heart conditions. “Some people are concerned that the vaccine may wind up being hydroxychloroquine,” he said, adding that the state health department will review the research before recommending that New Yorkers take any vaccine.

Nearly 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Research contact: @rollcall

Biden on Trump’s attack on him for not imposing mask mandate: ‘To be clear, I am not currently president’

September 17, 2020

On Tuesday night, Sepember 15, during an ABC-TV Town Hall broadcast targeted at those registered voters “who have not made up their minds yet” about whom to vote for in the presidential election, President Donald Trump lashed out at the opposition candidate, Democrat Joe Biden—rebuking him for not instituting a nationwide mask mandate.

According to a report by The Daily Beast, Trump remarked: “They said at the Democrat convention they’re going to do a national mandate. They never did it, because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it. And a good question is, you ask why Joe Biden—they said we’re going to do a national mandate on masks.”

There was just one thing wrong with that statement: Trump apparently had forgotten that Biden is not the sitting U.S. president.

Bidn’s team later chipped in with a helpful reminder to Trump, writing on Twitter: “To be clear: I am not currently president … We can change that in November.”

Research contact: @thedailybeast

‘A matter of life and death’: Scientific American gives Biden its first-ever presidential endorsement

September 16, 2020

Scientific American never has endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history—but, the editors say in the October 2020 issue of the publication, “This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.”

Indeed, they note, “The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. The editorial goes on to recount Trump’s many failures in handling the disease. On testing, the editors believe that Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures has led to “catastrophic” results in the United States.

They allege, “He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer.

“Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.

However, it wasn’t just a testing problem, the editors reveal. “… If almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Such a strategy would hurt no one. It would close no business. It would cost next to nothing. But Trump and his vice president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances.

At virtually every stage of the pandemic, they say, “ … Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery.”

What’s more, the editorial goes on to say, “Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and “this is like a flu​” when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible,” they write. “His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods.”

The Scientific American editors wrap up the editorial with their endorsement: “That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.”

Research contact: @sciam

Trump suggests he would ‘negotiate’ a 3rd term as president because he is ‘probably entitled’ to it

September 15, 2020

At an indoor rally on September 12—held in Nevada, a state in which such gatherings are illegal—President Donald Trump once again suggested that he would serve three terms in office, telling attendees of  the campaign event that he was “probably entitled” to an additional four years following a hypothetical second term, Business Insider reports.

“And 52 days from now we’re going to win Nevada, and we’re going to win four more years in the White House,” Trump told the mostly maskless, non-socially-distanced crowd of his supporters on Saturday. “And then after that, we’ll negotiate, right? Because we’re probably —based on the way we were treated—we are probably entitled to another four after that.”

Although the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1951, established that a president may not serve more than two terms, this is not the first time that Trump has insinuated that he plans to help himself to a third term.

We are going to win four more years,” Trump said last month, according to Yahoo News. “And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”

In November 2018, Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that he would not seek a constitutional amendment to permit him to serve more than two terms in office. He made the clarification after he had praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s abolishment of presidential term limits.

“He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great.” Trump said in March 2018. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”

“I think the eight-year limit is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump later told Wallace in 2018, although he has continued to float the idea of a third term.

In June 2019, Trump told the Meet the Press Host Chuck Todd that he was only joking when saying he’d try to serve more than two terms as president.

According to Business Insider, Trump frequently has argued that he’s been treated unfairly in comparison with his predecessors, often pointing to the Russia investigation and his impeachment.

In August, at a rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the president similarly suggested he was owed a third presidential term.

Research contact: @businessinsider

‘We’ll put them down very quickly’: Trump threatens to quash election night protests

September 14, 2020

President Donald Trump threatened Thursday to “put … down very quickly” riots on election night, should aggrieved Democrats take to the streets in the wake of his potential victory, Politico reports.

The remarks from the president came in an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that is set to air Saturday, in which he was asked how he would respond to incidents of rioting should he be declared the winner on November 3.

“We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that. We have the right to do that. We have the power to do that, if we want,” Trump said.

“Look, it’s called insurrection,” he added. “We just send in, and we do it very easy. I mean, it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it, but if we had to, we’d do that and put it down within minutes.”

Trump drew bipartisan criticism in June after police officers and National Guard troops fired rubber bullets and deployed flash-bang grenades to force largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House.

The incursion against protesters by U.S. law enforcement officials allowed the president, top White House aides, and senior administration officials including Attorney General William Barr, to walk across the street to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church — where Trump posed with an upside down Bible for a political photo opportunity.

Just a few weeks later, in July, Trump deployed an ambiguous mix of militarized officers from the Department of Homeland Security to Portland, Oregon, where they were captured on video using apparently unnecessary force against a Navy veteran and loading BLM protesters into unmarked cars.

At the same time, Biden has forcefully condemned all violence in American cities. However, Trump has been reluctant to speak out against violence perpetrated by his supporters in the form of counterprotests.

It is unclear whether there will be rioting on election night or if the White House race will even be called in the hours after the polls close, due to the significant expansion of mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, Politico says.

Trump has expressed vocal opposition to voting by mail, asserting without evidence that the virtual ballot-casting practice would result in widespread voter fraud and yield unfavorable electoral results for Republicans.

In august, Trump threatened that he would order law enforcement officials to polling places in an effort to deter illegal activity on Election Day, although it is unclear what authority he has to issue such a directive.

“We’re going to have everything,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to have, hopefully, U.S. attorneys, and we’re going to have everybody and attorneys general.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows insisted at that juncture that Trump was not advocating a form of voter suppression, and Attorney General William Barr argued that sending federal agents to voting sites would be legal if they were responding to a “particular criminal threat” or “specific investigative danger.”

Research contact: @politico

Trump admits to ‘downplaying’ COVID-19 to the nation—even, knowing it was ‘deadly stuff’

September 11, 2020

Last March, President Donald Trump personally told top-tier journalist Bob Woodward that he had deliberately and knowingly played down the threat of the coronavirus during his press events, even though he was aware that it had the potential to be—and already had been seen to be—vastly more serious than the seasonal flu.

In fact, he told the journalist that he “liked” playing down the pandemic.

In an attempt to walk back that damaging statement this past week, the president explained his rationale for keeping the truth from the American people: He said he “intentionally played down the deadly nature of the rapidly spreading coronavirus in an attempt to avoid a “frenzy” among voters (and in the financial markets); and as part of an escalating damage-control effort by his top advisers,” The Washington Post reports.

“This is deadly stuff,” Mr. Trump said on February 7 in one of 17 on-the-record  telephone interviews with Woodward over seven months for his coming book, Rage.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” the president told the author in audio recordings made available on The Washington Post website. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

But three days after those remarks, Trump told the Fox Business anchor Trish Regan: “We’re in very good shape. We have 11 cases. And most of them are getting better very rapidly. I think they will all be better.” A little less than two weeks later, he told reporters on the South Lawn that “we have it very much under control in this country.”

By February 26, the president was publicly dismissing concerns about just how lethal the virus was. “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for,” he said at a White House news conference. “And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”

And by February 28, The Washington Post reports, at a rally in South Carolina, Mr. Trump denounced Democrats for their concerns about the virus as “their new hoax,” after the Russia

Indeed, according to the Post, Trump was absorbing in real time the information he was given by health and national security experts, he made a conscious choice not only to mislead the public but also to actively pressure governors to reopen states before his own government guidelines said they were ready.

By March, Mr. Trump was straightforward with Woodward about his tactics. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said in an audio recording of an interview on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

He detailed “the viciousness of the virus,” saying, “You know when it attacks it attacks the lungs. And I don’t know—when people get hit, when they get hit, and now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob.” He went on: “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older. Young people too — plenty of young people.”

And yet in an interview broadcast by Fox and Friends on August 5, Trump asserted: “If you look at children, children are almost, and I would say almost definitely, but almost immune from this disease. I don’t know how you feel about it, but they’ve got stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this.”

Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “children are at risk for severe Covid-19.”

One question swirling in Washington this past week was why the president had given Woodward such extensive access. Woodward—a longtime editor and reporter at The Washington Post who with Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon—has written books on most of Nixon’s successors, many of them critical. Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s former top political adviser, noted on Fox News on Wednesday that nearly every president who has cooperated with Woodward has regretted it.

Current White House officials said that Trump opened his door to Woodward in the hope that the eventual book would be positive. The president did not speak to Woodward for his first book on the Trump presidency, “Fear, and the president has maintained that it would have turned out better had he participated.

Officials also said that Trump, who has great faith in his ability to sell people on his version of events, was eager to have Woodward’s seal on his time in office.

Research source: @washingtonpost

Insufficient funds? Trump defends his campaign’s spending as cash advantage evaporates

September 9, 2020

Just like the nation and the electorate he serves, President Donald Trump is experiencing a cash crunch that can be traced to the Oval Office.

On Twitter on September 7, the president defended his campaign’s financial decision-making, after a report that surfaced in The New York Times provoked new scrutiny of his reelection team’s spending habits. Reportedly, Trump has squandered his cash advantage over Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“My Campaign spent a lot of money up front in order to compensate for the false reporting and Fake News concerning our handling of the China Virus,” Trump tweeted on September 8. “Now they see the GREAT job we have done, and we have 3 times more than we had 4 years ago – & are up in polls. Lots of $’s & ENERGY!”

According to Politico, the president’s social media post came after the Times published a story detailing how the Trump campaign has already spent more than $800 million of the $1.1 billion it raised in coordination with the Republican National Committee from the beginning of 2019 through July.

The Times report raised questions about former campaign manager Brad Parscale’s financial stewardship of Trump’s war chest, which was once viewed as an historic asset ahead of the fall’s general election campaign. Among the campaign’s expenses were a car and driver for Parscale, who was replaced atop the campaign in July by Bill Stepien.

Biden, meanwhile, has seen his fundraising soar in the final weeks of the campaign. Last month, the former vice president and the Democratic National Committee raked in a record $365 million in contributions — doubling Trump’s $165 million record haul from July and also surpassing the $193 million raised by Barack Obama in September 2008, Politco notes.

Trump has yet to report his August fundraising numbers, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Tuesday that he did not know when that campaign announcement would come. “I don’t know. I have zero visibility into that decision,” he said.

Research contact: @politico

 

FBI agent who helped launch Russia investigation says Trump was ‘compromised’

September 8, 2020

Peter Strzok— the FBI counterintelligence agent whose spiteful texts about President Donald Trump took him down; along with girlfriend and FBI lawyer Lisa Page; and arguably, the Russia investigation, itself—says in a new book that, even if Trump didn’t formally conspire with the Russian election interference operation, the president was badly compromised.

In the new release, entitled Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Strzok states that Trump was exposed because of his questionable business dealings, the hush money paid on his behalf to silence women, shady transactions at his charity—and, most importantly, “his lies about his Russia dealings,” including his secret 2015 effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow even as he told the world that he had no business with Russia.

“Putin knew he had lied. And Trump knew that Putin knew—a shared understanding that provided the framework for a potentially coercive relationship between the president of the United States and the leader of one of our greatest adversaries,” writes Strzok.

“This simple fact could explain something that made no sense otherwise: why Trump repeatedly … [chose] the course of action that made little sense in the context of U.S. national security but that clearly benefited Russia,” he writes.

And while—according to NBC News, which has obtained a copy of the book—Strzok reveals no new evidence that the president acted as a tool of Russia, the author’s inside account provides a detailed refutation of the notion that a group of anti-Trump denizens of the deep state cooked up the Russia “hoax,” as Trump likes to call it, to take down a president they didn’t support.

To the contrary, as he tells it, career public servants inside the FBI and the Justice Department were gobsmacked in 2016 by what they uncovered about a presidential campaign that seemed to find unlimited time to meet with Russians, practically inviting exploitation by a foreign adversary.

“I was skeptical that all the different threads amounted to anything more than bumbling incompetence, a confederacy of dunces who were too dumb to collude,” Strzok writes, summing up his view of the case for a Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia before he was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in July 2017 over his biased texts. “ 

In a statement to NBC News, White House spokesperson Brian Morgenstern called Strzok’s account “utter nonsense” and argued that neither Mueller nor Congress “…[has] found any wrongdoing by the president.” He added: “Strzok is a joke, and his book isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. ”

Whether crimes were committed is a different question from whether Russia had a hold over the president, however. Who was supposed to answer that counterintelligence question? Who would look at whether Trump had, in fact, benefited from massive investments by Russians, as his son once said he did? Or whether there was any reason to think Putin could blackmail him?

Strzok, 50, an Army veteran who worked most of his two-decade FBI career chasing Russian spies, says it was the job of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. But Strzok writes that at the time he left the investigation in 2017, “we were still looking for the right way to investigate those counterintelligence concerns.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Trump called U.S. WWI war casualties buried at French cemetery ‘losers’ and ‘’suckers’

September 7, 2020

President Donald Trump called American soldiers who died on French soil during World War I “losers” during a trip to France in 2018, according to multiple sources cited by The Atlantic.

The comments, reportedly were made ahead of a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in France that was ultimately canceled, with the excuse that Trump had worried that a rain storm in the area “would mess up his hair,” reports The Daily Beast.

Trump later referred to World War I Marines who were killed at Belleau Wood, where American and allied troops successfully halted the German advance towards Paris in 1918, as “suckers” for dying at at the hands of the enemy. Trump reportedly expressed confusion about the United States’ involvement in World War I, asking aides, “Who were the good guys in this war?”

Responding to the report in a statement, the White House said, “This report is patently false. President Trump holds the military in the highest regard. He’s demonstrated his commitment to them at every turn.”

However, an investigative reporter for the Associated Press tweeted that a senior Defense Department official “confirmed this story by Jeffrey Goldberg in its entirety.”

In a statement, Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming presidential election, said if the report were true, the president’s comments represented “yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States.”

The president has a long history of attacking military service members, even those in his own party, including the late Republican leader Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), whom he called a “fu***ing loser” upon seeing flags lowered to half-mast in McCain’s honor after his death in 2018. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said of McCain in 2015 while running for the Republican presidential nomination. “I like people who weren’t captured.” The president reportedly told his staff, “We’re not going to support that loser’s funeral” after McCain’s death. Trump was not invited to the memorial service, The Daily Beast notes.

During a 2018 planning meeting for a White House military parade, Trump reportedly refused to allow wounded veterans to march, especially not amputees. “Nobody wants to see that,” he was quoted saying.

On a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2017, Trump reportedly joined John Kelly, then Homeland Security secretary and soon-to-be White House chief of staff. Kelly’s son Robert, who was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 29, is buried at the cemetery. While standing before the grave, Trump is said to have asked the elder Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”

Kelly thought the remark was a joke at the time but later realized it was not, according to The Atlantic.

In 2016 he also attacked the Gold Star mother and father of a U.S. Army Captain, Humayun Khan, who received a Purple Heart for bravery after being killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the same tirade, he called his own work as a businessman a “sacrifice” similar to dying in combat. Khan’s parents spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Trump himself, of course, did not serve in the military, having received a deferment from service during Vietnam due to the alleged presence of bone spurs in his feet.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Reuters/Ipsos poll: No bounce in support for Trump as Americans see pandemic, not crime, as top issue

September 3, 2020

It’s the pandemic, stupid! President Donald Trump’s attempt to mobilize his base by making civil unrest a central theme of his re-election campaign has yet to boost his political standing, as a majority of U.S. voters remain sympathetic to protests against racism, according to findings of a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday, September 2.

Conducted between August 31 and September 1, the national opinion poll found that 40% of registered voters support Trump, a Republican; compared with 47% who said they will vote for his Democratic opponent Joe Biden. Biden’s lead over Trump has remained largely unchanged over the past three weeks—a time during which both parties held their nominating conventions.

Trailing Biden in most national opinion polls since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus this year, Trump has sought to change the subject from a pandemic that has killed more than 180,000 Americans, blaming Black Lives Matters protesters for violence in the cities and accusing Biden of being weak on crime, Reuters notes.

However,  in the poll, the majority of respondents— 78% — remained “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus. Nearly 60% said Trump is at least partly responsible for the protracted school and business closures due to the virus, as well as for the high number of coronavirus cases in the United States. More than 6 million Americans have been infected with the virus, more people than in any other country.

By contrast, most Americans do not see crime as a major priority and do not think it is increasing in their communities, the poll showed. Only about 8% of American adults listed crime as a top priority for the country, compared with 30% who said it was the economy or jobs, and 16% who said it was the healthcare system.

What’s more, 62% of registered voters—including 62% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans—said crime was not increasing in their communities

According to the poll, 53% of American adults said they remain sympathetic to people out protesting against racial inequality, nearly unchanged from 52% in a similar poll that ran in late July.

While support for the protesters has declined overall since the immediate aftermath of the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a national conversation on race, the poll showed more than half of suburban Americans and more than half of undecided registered voters are still sympathetic to them.

“The simple truth is Donald Trump failed to protect America. So now he’s trying to scare America,” Biden said in Pittsburgh this week.

Research contact: @Reuters