The White House confirmed today that the Mike Pence-led coronavirus task force charged with leading this nation's pandemic response will soon be disbanding, with its work redistributed among federal agencies. The timing is peculiar: According to the administration's own projections, COVID-19 deaths are expected to rise significantly in coming weeks after Republican-leaning states push to "reopen" businesses and public spaces despite expert warnings that the pandemic is continuing to accelerate.
The Pence-led task force was, from the beginning, a political rather than emergency-premised effort. Appearances and public statements by government pandemic experts were routed through the "task force" after Trump reportedly became irate over blunt public warnings of the potential scope of the pandemic; the task force held no other evident powers.
In today's pandemic news:
• The demise of the White House pandemic task force does not appear to mean administration officials will now be freer to give the public information about the pandemic or comply with oversight efforts during the now-national emergency. Donald Trump says his White House has explicitly prohibited Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma from testifying to Congress about the pandemic because he considers House Democrats "Trump haters."
• White nationalist and Trump "aide" Stephen Miller is continuing to use the crisis to further push White House anti-immigrant policies.
• Donald Trump defended his continued push to end stay-at-home orders despite still-increasing weekly pandemic death counts by claiming that "you're gonna lose people" to "drug abuse" and "they say, suicide" if the shutdowns remain in place.
• Yet another shocking new Washington Post story of Trump team self-absorbed incompetence reports that White House efforts to secure emergency pandemic supplies for the national stockpile—as well as efforts to estimate what supplies and drugs would be needed—were handed off to a Jared Kushner-linked team of "volunteers" rather than government pandemic or procurement experts. And that's only part of it.
• Vaccine researcher Dr. Rick Bright has now filed a whistleblower complaint charging that the Trump administration removed him from his government position in retaliation after he refused to back Trump's push to inject coronavirus patients with an unproven malaria drug.
• Republican governors are scrambling to most dramatically "reopen" their states in apparent efforts to curry favor with the ever-vengeful but ally-obsessed Trump. This, despite increasing numbers of new cases in many of those same states.
• In a typically self-lauding and delusional Trump interview by the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, Trump declared that "the one thing the pandemic has taught us is that I was right. You know, I had people say 'No, no, it's good. You keep, you do this and that.' Now those people are really agreeing with me."
• Wealthy Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler is launching a $4 million ad buy in response to the disclosure that she responded to government-provided pandemic briefings by dumping her own stock holdings before the markets subsequently crashed. Though Loeffler did not defend herself from the charges per se, she did note that she used her private jet to fly home pandemic-stranded cruise ship passengers.
• The University of California and California State University systems have announced they will be allocating funds to assist Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students intentionally blocked by the Betsy DeVos-led Trump Education Department from receiving congressionally funded federal emergency grants.
• Despite much-hyped protests by gun-toting "freedom" demanders, non-Republican Americans remain strongly supportive of social distancing measures.
• More than 70 detainees will be freed from the privately operated Otay Mesa Detention Center after a federal judge ordered the release of detained immigrants with medical conditions that make them "medically vulnerable" to the spreading disease.
• The pandemic may be somewhat responsible for William Barr's Department of Justice getting cold feet on prior demands that the Supreme Court invalidate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Barr has warned the White House it "could have major political implications" if healthcare reforms are struck down or in danger during pandemic-impacted November elections.
• Conservative pundits pushed a new conspiracy theory, noting that a government web page listed 20,000 fewer deaths from COVID-19 than other pandemic counts have estimated. The reason for the discrepancy is, however, prominent on the page being referenced: The page is summarizing death certificate data, and death certificates commonly take several weeks to make it into the federal database. Oops?
• The violent far-right has been active in anti-lockdown protests nationwide, further stoking "patriot" and neo-Nazi advocacy for mass violent action and a "second civil war." Republican officials and conservative pundits who have for a decades promoted and mainstreamed the conspiracy-obsessed groups as useful public partners seem indifferent to the very real potential for violence.
• A Texas man is under arrest after he assaulted a park ranger asking a crowd to abide by social distancing measures, pushing him off a dock in Austin’s Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park.
• Elsewhere, videos of several violent police arrests of Black Americans for alleged social distancing violations—even as the same orders go seemingly unenforced in other communities—are generating condemnation and fury.
• CNN is demanding the Trump campaign withdraw an ad using manipulatively edited network (that is, faked) footage to falsely suggest network hosts praised Trump's ban on China-to-America travel. They were instead noting the importance of state shelter-in-place orders.
• Missouri rabbis are reminding Jewish state residents that "Jewish tradition values human life about virtually all else," and thus requesting an absentee ballot during the pandemic qualifies as a state-allowed "religious belief or practice."
• New programs in 16 states are directing emergency state funding to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) programs to replace free meal programs some children no longer have access to because of school closures.
• Trump's Fox News-produced "virtual town hall" inside the Lincoln Memorial would normally not be allowed, as such events are limited by the Interior Department to only the steps of the Memorial, not the interior. Trump-appointed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt overruled those rules, citing the "extraordinary crisis" and the "need for the President to exercise a core governmental function to address the Nation." (The change in venue may or may have not been precipitated by Trump's apparent fear of stairs. We can't say for sure.)
• President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will hold a "virtual" commencement ceremony for graduating high school seniors, and a separate virtual event honoring graduates of historically Black colleges and universities.
Posted with permission from Daily Kos.
UPDATE: Donald Trump, claiming he had absolutely no idea the task force was so "popular," is now backtracking and will keep it active. No guarantees on what they'll actually focus on, though.
Here's the video:
Trump on the coronavirus task force: "I thought we could wind it down sooner, but I had no idea how popular the task force is."
The task force is supposed to be about fighting the virus that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, not about "how popular" it is. pic.twitter.com/AbqQyYQQpJ
— The American Independent (@AmerIndependent) May 6, 2020