Posts tagged with "Trump administration"

China vows reprisals after USA shutters Houston consulate in what Beijing calls ‘unprecedented escalation’

July 23, 2020

President Donald Trump is raising the stake internationally. China vowed retaliation on July 22 after the United States forced its trade foe to close its Houston consulate, in one of the biggest threats to diplomatic ties between the two nations in decades, Bloomberg News reports..

The U.S. government gave China three days to close its consulate in America’s fourth-most populous city in an “unprecedented escalation,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Wednesday in Beijing.

China planned to “react with firm countermeasures” if the Trump Administration didn’t “revoke this erroneous decision,” Wang said.

According to Bloomberg, the U.S. State Department said it ordered the consulate shut “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” without giving more details. At least two Chinese citizens have been convicted of stealing energy industry trade secrets in Houston in recent years. The consulate is one of five China maintains in the United States, along with its embassy in Washington, D.C.

Asked for specifics on why the consulate was being closed, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo responded with broad remarks about China’s actions on intellectual property, saying it was “costing hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

“We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave and, when they don’t, we’re going to take actions that protect the American people,” Pompeo said at a briefing on Wednesday in Denmark where he was meeting the country’s foreign minister.

 “So much has happened so quickly that it’s hard not to feel like this is a cycle of major escalation,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, adding, “To close a consulate on 72-hours notice should be the result only of major infractions by that country and certainly signals a level of diplomatic rancor that is quite intense.”

America has clashed with China over everything from trade and 5G networks to territorial disputes and responsibility for the pandemic, Bloomberg noted. On Tuesday, the Justice Department accused two Chinese hackers of working for Beijing to steal or try to steal terabytes of data, including coronavirus research, from Western companies in 11 nations.

Typically, China would be expected to take similar action against a U.S. consulate. Besides the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China could target consulates in the cities of Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang and Wuhan.

Research contact: Bloombergnews2

Judge strikes down Trump Administration rule denying asylum to most migrants at southern border

July 2, 2020

A federal judge has nullified a Trump Administration rule that, since July 2019, has banned most migrants from receiving asylum at America’s southern border with Mexico, The Hill reports.

The rule in question made all applicants at the southern border ineligible for asylum unless they had previously applied from another country or had been the victims of sex trafficking.

Late on Tuesday night, June 30, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly of the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump Administration had failed to follow the procedural law governing how regulations can be implemented—which requires advance notice and a period for the public to comment on the proposal.

“These procedures are not a mere formality,” Kelly, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in his opinion.

The ruling—one of several that have disappointed the POTUS in recent weeks—will likely have little immediate impact amid the president’s strict border restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic.

Hardy Vieux, an attorney at Human Rights First, one of the plaintiffs in the case, hailed the decision.

“Judge Kelly’s ruling is proof that the administration cannot do an end-run around the law,” Vieux said in a statement. “In the United States of America, we follow the rule of law, even when it benefits asylum-seekers demonized by this administration. We do not follow the rule of one capricious man, who treats the law as something on which to trample, on his way to a photo op.”

The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, another plaintiff, added that the decision would remove a barrier for those seeking safety from persecution.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles,” said Claudia Cubas, the group’s litigation director. “The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims.”

Still, the decision could be appealed. A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Research contact: @thehill

Trump Administration cuts off funding to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in five states

June 25, 2020

The Trump Administration is doing its level best to close—or at the very least, slow down—coronavirus testing nationwide by cutting off support to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites on June 30; and leaving operation and funding of those sites to the states—even as cases spike in several parts of the country, Politico reports.

This is not the first time that the Administration has tried to offload control of the drive-thru sites to the states—but the last effort was suspended in April when governors in the states affected objected strongly.

The 13 sites—in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas—are the last federally run sites out of 41 originally established across the country. Seven sites are in hard-hit Texas, where cases are climbing.

Taking the offensive on Thursday, June 24, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told Roll Call that the sites were always meant to be a temporary solution as the country worked to ramp up testing capacity in traditional health care settings.

What he didn’t mention was that, with a looming election challenge, Trump has seen the pandemic as a drag on the economy that he simply wants to go away.

Indeed, in early March, the president transferred responsibility for flattening the line on the coronavirus pandemic to the states—and, specifically, to the governors. He will neither wear a mask nor recommend one; and he has been unwilling to release nearly $14B in Congressional funding for testing and tracing efforts to combat COVID-19. However, he continues to brag that his pandemic effort is the best ever executed.

Already protesters are piling on: Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, tells Politico that it’s not the right time to shift responsibility for the sites to the states—especially those near emerging hot spots in Texas

“The federally supported testing sites remain critically needed, and in some place like Houston and Harris County, TX and in other hotspots, are needed now more than ever,” Becker said in an email. “This is not the time for the federal government to walk back prior commitments on testing.”

Even Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is critical of the plan, noting,. “It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not the time to retreat from our vigilance in testing,” he said. “I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed.”

So what will be the outcome? HHS says there is no going back: Gigroir recommends that the state governors can use CARES Act funding to maintain operations at the current federally supported testing sites.

Research contact: @politico

Virus whistle-blower Rick Bright says Trump Administration steered contracts to cronies

May 7, 2020

A federal scientist who says he was ousted from his job after he argued against the president’s recommendation of an unproven coronavirus treatment—a malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine—is fighting back. This week, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency.

Rick Bright, an expert in vaccine development who was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until his removal in April, said in a formal whistle-blower complaint that he had been protesting “cronyism” and contract abuse since 2017.

Indeed, Bright claimed on May 5 that top Trump Administration officials repeatedly had pressured him to steer millions of dollars in contracts to the clients of a well-connected pharmaceutical consultant, The New York Times reported.

Questionable contracts have gone to “companies with political connections to the administration,” the complaint said, including a drug company tied to a friend of Jared Kushner’s, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser,

Even more damningly, the complaint said Dr. Bright was retaliated against by his superiors, who pushed him out because of “his efforts to prioritize science and safety over political expediency.”

A lawyer for Dr. Bright, Debra Katz, said he felt a “moral obligation” to get the word out that the administration was pressing to stockpile an unproven and potentially dangerous coronavirus treatment, which was supplied by drugmakers in India and Pakistan and had not been certified by the Food and Drug Administration.

The 89-page complaint, obtained by the Times, also said Dr. Bright “encountered opposition” from department superiors — including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex  Azar —when he pushed as early as January for the necessary resources to develop drugs and vaccines to counter the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

According to the news outlet, the report provides a window into the inner workings of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a tiny agency created in 2006 as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It partners with industry in developing “medical countermeasures” that can be stockpiled by the federal government to combat biological or chemical attacks and pandemic threats.

BARDA has spent billions of dollars on contracts with dozens of different suppliers, including major pharmaceutical companies and smaller biotechnology firms.

Both allies and Dr. Bright say his nearly four-year tenure as the head of BARDA was marked by clashes with his superiors—especially Dr. Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response —and tension with some industry executives. Dr. Bright conceded in the complaint that those clashes came to a head after he leaked information on the dispute over the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to a reporter from Reuters.

The complaint says top Department of Health and Human Services officials, including Dr. Kadlec, who oversees the strategic national stockpile, overruled scientific experts while awarding contracts to firms represented by the consultant, John Clerici, a founder and principal of DC-based Tiber Creek Partners—which Clerici has said “has been at the forefront in the creation of the public health preparedness sector, including helping large pharmaceutical and emerging biotechnology companies develop creative approaches … to fund the development of biotechnology for emergency disease and engineered threats.” .

Clerici was instrumental, along with Dr. Kadlec, in writing the legislation that created BARDA.

“Dr. Bright was vocal about his concerns regarding the inappropriate and possibly illegal communications between Mr. Clerici, Dr. Kadlec, Mr. Shuy and Mr. Meekins,” the complaint stated, referring to Bryan Shuy and Chris Meekins, two other department officials.

A spokesperson for the department, Caitlin Oakley, did not address the complaints about officials there, when approached by the Times. “Dr. Bright was transferred to N.I.H. to work on diagnostics testing—critical to combating COVID-19—where he has been entrusted to spend upward of $1 billion to advance that effort,” she said in an statement emailed to the news outlet.

She added,“We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavor.”

Dr. Bright initially was offered a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health to work on a new “Shark Tank”-style program to develop coronavirus treatments, but Katz told reporters he “has no role” and did not receive his last paycheck, the Times said.

Clerici said he “unequivocally” denied any wrongdoing, adding: “It’s sad that during a pandemic, Dr. Bright and his team have chosen to distract people like Dr. Kadlec, who are critical to the response, with politically motivated allegations. The record is clear that his allegations are false and will be proven so.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Addressing the ‘Not Me’ mindset: The other essential pandemic office that Trump eliminated

March 20, 2020

Much attention has been paid to the Trump Administration’s shortsighted elimination of the White House Pandemic Response Team—a move that resulted in a failure to test rapidly and widely for the COVID-19 virus before it had reached epidemic proportions in the United States.

But the president and his advisers also are responsible for ousting the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST), created by Executive Order in 2015 during Obama’s term of office, Slate reports—a group of professionals who could have advised the American population about how best to institute social distancing; and about how to get people to actually follow such instructions.

In its brief existence, the SBST tackled a broad range of issues, from fighting food insecurity to helping people save for retirement, through an evidence-based policy approach. For example, the group encouraged U.S. households to make their homes more energy-efficient by highlighting the immediate, concrete benefits of saving money on their power bills; rather than trying to appeal to the abstract, distant goal of slowing climate change.

Crucially, SBST programs did not try to tell Americans what to do by throwing a bunch of facts and statistics at them—a current coronavirus-fighting approach that has only worked with a subset of the population, Slate says.

Specifically, while epidemiologists are trying to model COVID-19’s true fatality rate (3.4%? 1%?), decision scientists already know that people are generally pretty bad at objectively assessing probabilities. Famous behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that people “discard events of extremely low probability,” simplifying minuscule percentages to basically zero. In other words, regardless of COVID-19’s true case fatality rate, our human brains are tempted to shortcut it to “super unlikely, so probably not me.”

Of course, even a 1% fatality rate means a devastating number of lives lost around the world. Effectively communicating the lethality of COVID-19 is paramount to convincing people to take the threat seriously.

One strategy is to leverage the “identifiable victim effect,” in which people are more moved to help known individuals than unknown others. (You’ve experienced this yourself if the coronavirus didn’t feel real until Tom Hanks tested positive, Slate notes.)

People in their 20s appear to face just a 0.09% fatality rate, an even-more-near-zero number that, combined with that age group’s propensity for risk-taking and socializing, makes it hard to convince young adults to follow social distancing guidelines to save themselves.

Instead, argues Oxford neuroethicist and Yale psychology professor Molly Crockett, it may be more persuasive to highlight how our actions can avoid causing harm to others. For example, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx spoke of focusing on protecting older Americans and then specifically called for Millennials to do their part to stop the virus.

And, while it may be especially hard to convince older adults to give up social aspects of their lives that connect them to others, we can reframe “social distancing” as “distance socializing” to emphasize our intentions to continue socializing from afar.

The SBST was founded with the belief that behavioral science insights could improve Americans’ lives through evidence-based policy. Right now, those insights could save American lives, but there’s no longer a direct way to pass such information to the White House. Here’s hoping, Slate says, that our next administration will see the value of seeking counsel from scientists and reinstate them in advisory positions.

Research contact: @Slate

Kline is not inclined to comply with Democratic subpoena over security clearances

April 24, 2019

Carl Klinethe former head of the White House Personnel Security Office who approved Jared Kushner’s security clearance after intelligence officials nixed it—has been instructed by the Trump administration not to comply with a House Oversight Committee subpoena demanding his appearance for an interview.

This is just the latest move by the president to stonewall Democratic-led investigations, CNN reports. After a day of tense negotiations, the White House late Monday, April 22, told Kline, who now works at the Defense Department, not to appear at the April 23 deposition—contending that Democrats were seeking access to confidential information that should be off limits, the cable news outlet said.

Michael Purpura, deputy counsel to Trump, argued that Cummings’ subpoena of Kline “unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests,” according to a letter obtained by CNN.

Kline’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, said his client would listen to his employer .”With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him,” Driscoll said in a separate letter obtained by CNN.

In response, the committee could seek to hold Kline in contempt—a step that Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) warned Monday he would take.

 A White House official, Tricia Newbold, told the committee several weeks ago that at least 25 individuals had been greenlighted for security clearances despite serious concerns raised during the vetting process—and alleged that Kline retaliated against her for speaking out as a whistleblower.

In another letter obtained by CNN, Cummings said White House counsel Pat Cipollone previously informed the committee that Kline would not appear on Tuesday unless the committee allowed someone from the White House counsel’s office “to appear with Mr. Kline in order to preserve and protect Executive Branch confidentiality interests.”

Cummings responded Monday: “The Committee will not permit a representative from your office to attend the deposition,” adding that Kline would be held in contempt if he didn’t comply with the subpoena.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Whodunnit? House Judiciary Committee intends to find out

March 5, 2019

It reads like a whodunnit. On March 4, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced that he and his colleagues would investigate alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Donald Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration—among them, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, David Pecker of American Media, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, Trump son-in-law and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Trump buddy Roger Stone; and the president’s sons, Eric and Donald, Jr.

As a first step, the committee has served document requests to 81 agencies, entities, and individuals believed to have information relevant to the investigation (see full list). 

“Over the last several years, President Trump has evaded accountability for his near-daily attacks on our basic legal, ethical, and constitutional rules and norms,” said Nadler.

“Investigating these threats to the rule of law is an obligation of Congress and a core function of the House Judiciary Committee,” he noted. “We have seen the damage done to our democratic institutions in the two years that the Congress refused to conduct responsible oversight.

“Congress must provide a check on abuses of power,” said the committee chairman. “Equally, we must protect and respect the work of Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller, but we cannot rely on others to do the investigative work for us.  Our work is even more urgent after senior Justice Department officials have suggested that they may conceal the work of the Special Counsel’s investigation from the public.

Nadler explained,“We have sent these document requests in order to begin building the public record.  The Special Counsel’s office and the Southern District of New York are aware that we are taking these steps.  We will act quickly to gather this information, assess the evidence, and follow the facts where they lead with full transparency with the American people.  This is a critical time for our nation, and we have a responsibility to investigate these matters and hold hearings for the public to have all the facts.  That is exactly what we intend to do.”

The Committee’s investigation will cover three main areas:

  • Obstruction of Justice, including the possibility of interference by the president and others in a number of criminal investigations and other official proceedings, as well as the alleged cover-up of violations of the law;
  • Public Corruption, including potential violations of the emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution, conspiracy to violate federal campaign and financial reporting laws, and other criminal misuses of official positions for personal gain; and
  • Abuses of Power, including attacks on the press, the judiciary, and law enforcement agencies; misuse of the pardon power and other presidential authorities; and attempts to misuse the power of the Office of the Presidency.

For the two years that the Trump administration has been in power, “in the absence of responsible oversight by the Republican Majority,” the House Judiciary Committee Democrats say that they have written—but received no response to—over 100 letters to the White House, the Administration, and House Republican Leadership documenting the failings of the Trump Administration and demanding accountability. With this investigation, they intend to finally get their questions answered.

Research contact: @RepJerryNadler

DoJ argues businesses can legally discriminate against transgender workers

October 26. 2018

The Department of Justice argued in the Supreme Court on October 24 that businesses can discriminate against employees based on their gender identity without violating federal sex discrimination laws, Bloomberg Law reported.

“The court of appeals misread the statute and this Court’s decisions in concluding that Title VII encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in a brief regarding a case against a Michigan funeral home. R&G Harris and G&R Harris Funeral Homes, a family-owned business in the Detroit area, is accused of violating federal employment laws when it fired transgender worker Aimee Stephens in 2013.

Specifically, after Stephens said she was transitioning, her boss—a devout Christian, according to CNN—told her the situation was “not going to work out,” according to court documents. She was offered a severance package, but she declined to accept it—instead filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the funeral home.

The EEOC, which enforces civil rights law in the workplace, successfully sued on Stephens’ behalf in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the Michigan funeral home has appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where the Justice Department represents the government.

The Justice Department’s argument that federal civil rights law does not apply to transgender workers comes after The New York Times reported on October 21  that the Department of Health and Human Services was moving ahead with efforts to limit the definition of gender—saying that gender can only be defined by the genitals a person had at birth.

A leading transgender advocate called the government’s reported action a “super aggressive, dismissive, dangerous move,” according to the Times.

“They are saying we don’t exist,” said Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Rights, in an interview.

What’s more, this is not the first time that the rights of transgender people have been challenged by the current administration. The Trump administration also has attempted to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military — a move that was blocked by the courts in November 2017.

Research contact: copfer@bloomberglaw.com

HHS proposal: Big Pharma must divulge drug prices in TV ads

October 17, 2018

Americans nationwide are swallowing more prescription drugs than ever before—and in doing so, they also are “swallowing” the high prices of the drugs they take.

However, all of that is about to change in some specific ways. Drug companies now are promising to provide the list prices for their products in television ads, in compliance with a proposal released by the Trump administration on October 15. The new rule, which is open for discussion, would affect any drug covered by Medicare or Medicaid—bringing greater transparency to drug pricing in the United States.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the new proposal on Monday, just hours after the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA—the advocacy group that represents big drug companies—said its members would start indirectly mentioning prices in their television ads.

In a press release, PhRMA, announced that its 33 member companies would point viewers to websites that cite the list prices of the drugs they advertise, and that also will clarify what consumers can expect to actually pay for the drugs.

“PhRMA member companies’ direct-to-consumer television advertisements will soon direct patients to information about medicine costs, including the list price of the medicine, out-of-pocket costs or other context about the potential cost of the medicine and available financial assistance,” the group said in its statement.

“The administration and Congress have called on our industry to provide cost information in DTC advertisements, and our members are voluntarily stepping up to the plate,” confirmed Stephen J. Ubl, president and CEO of PhRMA.

However, Azar said that the websites were insufficient. “We appreciate their effort. But placing information on a website is not the same as putting it right in an ad,” Azar commented in a speech at the National Academy of Medicine.

“For too long, drug pricing has been like no other market,'” he said. “We will not wait for an industry with so many conflicting and perverse incentives to reform itself.”

Under the proposed rule, a company would have to put in writing the price for a typical course of treatment for drugs such as antibiotics, or the 30-day cost for drugs taken for chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Specifically, the proposal will require direct-to-consumer television advertisements for prescription drug and biological products paid for by Medicare or Medicaid to include the list price if the list price—the Wholesale Acquisition Cost—is greater than $35 for a month’s supply or the usual course of therapy, with the prices updated quarterly. Right now, the 10 most commonly advertised drugs have list prices ranging from $535 to $11,000 per month or usual course of therapy.

According to HHS, fully 47% of Americans have high-deductible health plans, under which they often pay the list price of a drug until their insurance kicks in. What’s more, all seniors on Medicare Part D have coinsurance for certain types of drugs, which means their out-of-pocket expenses are calculated as a share of list price.

PhRMA has said any attempt to force companies to publish prices would violate First Amendment rights of free speech.

Research contact: @HHSGov

Parents at border still to be faced with heartless choice

June 26, 2018

The Trump administration is developing a plan that would confront parents who cross the border illegally with a sort of “Sophie’s Choice,” according to a June 25 report by the Miami Herald: Either allow themselves to be detained with their child in a large tent city—or give up custody of their child, at least temporarily—according to two sources who have discussed the plans with White House officials.

The choice is being considered as part of a hastily crafted solution to the problem of complying with President Donald Trump’s executive order last week, which terminated the widely condemned policy of separating parents and children arrested at the border. However, it still uses children as pawns in the zero-tolerance immigration push.

Current law, the news outlet points out, prohibits the federal government from keeping children detained, even with their parents, in immigration detention for more than 20 days.

But, if a parent does not wish the child to be released from custody and taken away from him or her, the so-called Flores court settlement notes the parent can keep the child with them in custody.

More than 2,000 Latin American children have been placed in shelters or foster homes since the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” plan went into effect. Since the executive order was signed last week, about 500 children have been returned to their parents.Top of Form

“They want to take the power of the mother away to be able to say, ‘I want my kid released’,” Peter Schey, the lawyer who represented the mothers in the Flores case, told the Herald. “They want to take that away. Say ‘no, forget that, the kid has to be detained with you until the very end.’ ”

Schey described Trump’s proposal as “Hobson’s choice“—which means no choice at all—but said the Department of Homeland Security can already detain parents and children together if the parent does not want their child to be released. He said parents need to understand and be informed that they do have choices.

“Neither the language nor the intention of anything in the Flores agreement precludes a parent from retaining decision-making power over their children,” Schey said. “We never thought to usurp that decision-making authority which we highly respect.”

According to the findings of a Quinnipiac University poll released on June 18, American voters oppose 66% vs. 27% percent the policy of separating children and parents when families illegally cross the border.

Research contact: @francoordonez