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Wake Up To Politics - May 13, 2020

I’m Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, May 13, 2020. 174 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Top health officials warn against reopening too soon

Dr. Anthony Fauci and three other top health officials testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday, issuing dire warnings about the consequences states and cities could face if they relax stay-at-home orders and reopen too quickly.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned about a potential resurgence of the coronavirus if localities do not follow the federal government's criteria before reopening, as deaths from the virus in the U.S. raced past 82,000 and infections approached 1.4 million.

"My concern, that if some areas, city, states or what have you jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is that we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks," Fauci testified.

Fauci also told lawmakers that states reopening their economies too soon could "trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," which could lead to "some suffering and death that could be avoided" and "could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery."

The longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) was asked repeatedly about schools reopening in August; he told committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that it is "unlikely" a vaccine would be ready by then.

Later, in a clash with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who called it "ridiculous" that the nation was not planning to send kids back to school in the fall, Fauci added: "I think we better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects" of the coronavirus. Fauci pointed to a mysterious inflammatory syndrome associated with the virus that young children in the United States and other countries have recently been diagnosed with.  

The warnings issued by Fauci and the other officials testifying — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Brett Giroir — were in sharp contrast to the celebratory note recently struck by President Donald Trump.

"We have met the moment and we have prevailed," Trump declared at a press conference Monday. The president later clarified that he was referring to the government's improvements in offering access to testing — "America leads the world in testing," large posters behind him proclaimed — although the U.S. testing record came under scrutiny at Tuesday's hearing as well.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) challenged statements by Giroir, the administration's coronavirus testing coordinator, that the U.S. has now conducted more tests per capita than South Korea. "You ignored the fact that they accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak while we treaded water during February and March," Romney said, arguing that the U.S. has only surpassed South Korea testing because they no longer need to conduct as many tests, since infections have dropped in South Korea due to conducting more tests earlier.

"I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever," Romney concluded.

The setting of the hearing presented an inherent contradiction in itself. It was focused on reopening the country — titled "Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School" — but all four of the witnesses and many of the senators were not even able to venture to the Capitol to participate. Instead, they beamed in remotely, many because of exposure to other officials infected with the coronavirus.

Coronavirus: Latest updates

House Democrats unveil $3 trillion coronavirus relief plan: "House Democrats introduced a sprawling coronavirus rescue bill Tuesday that would direct more than $3 trillion to state and local governments, health systems, and a range of other initiatives, setting up a huge clash with Senate Republicans and the White House over how to deal with the sputtering economy."

"The legislation also would send a second round of stimulus checks to millions of Americans and include more funding for the Postal Service. Not every component of the measure would include more government spending. Some parts would aim to address the coronavirus pandemic in other ways, such as by requiring passengers to wear masks on airplanes and public transit."

"Republicans rejected the legislation even before they saw it, describing it as a liberal wish list that would go nowhere in the Republican-led Senate." (Washington Post)

White House shelved restrictive guidance from CDC: "Advice from the top U.S. disease control experts on how to safely reopen businesses and institutions during the coronavirus pandemic was more detailed and restrictive than the plan released by the White House last month."

"The guidance, which was shelved by Trump administration officials, also offered recommendations to help communities decide when to shut facilities down again during future flareups of COVID-19."

"The Associated Press obtained a 63-page document that is more detailed than other, previously reported segments of the shelved guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows how the thinking of the CDC infection control experts differs from those in the White House managing the pandemic response." (Associated Press)

Kushner declines to rule out postponing election: "Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, refused on Tuesday to rule out postponing the presidential election in November, a comment that fed directly into Democratic concerns that President Trump might use the coronavirus crisis to delay or delegitimize the contest and one that contradicted Mr. Trump himself."

"'I'm not sure I can commit one way or the other, but right now that’s the plan,' Mr. Kushner told Time magazine in response to a question about whether the election could be postponed because of the pandemic."

"The opinion of a White House staff member has no bearing on when the election is held. Even the president himself does not have the authority to unilaterally postpone Election Day, which by law takes place the Tuesday after the first Monday in November." (New York Times)

2020 Central

GOP leading in California special election: "Republican Mike Garcia jumped to an early lead Tuesday over Democrat Christy Smith in the runoff for a House seat in the Los Angeles suburbs, raising GOP hopes of flipping a blue California Congressional District for the first time since 1998."

"Early results in the election to fill the remainder of Rep. Katie Hill’s first term showed Garcia, a defense industry executive, ahead of Democratic state Assemblywoman Smith of Santa Clarita by 12 percentage points, with 76% of precincts reporting."

"The final tally in the nearly all mail-in ballot contest won’t be available for several days — ballots postmarked by Tuesday and received by end of day Friday will be counted. But Garcia’s lead suggests the 25th Congressional District, which includes Palmdale, Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and part of Lancaster, is within his party’s reach." (Los Angeles Times)

Biden, Sanders announce party unity task forces: "Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday named the co-chairs and members of their joint task forces meant to shore up Democratic Party unity ahead of November’s general election."

"The announcement follows through on a pledge the two men made last month — when Sanders, the runner-up in the Democratic presidential primary, endorsed Biden, the party’s presumptive nominee — to establish working groups to advise the Biden campaign on six key policy areas: climate change, criminal justice reform, economy, education, health care, and immigration."

"The task forces’ membership consists of a stable of prominent Democratic leaders and public policy experts, but its most notable appointee is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive New York congresswoman and superstar of the party’s left wing who backed Sanders during the primary contest and has evinced skepticism toward Biden’s more moderate ideology." (Politico)


*All times Eastern

President Donald Trump will meet with Govs. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Doug Burgum (R-ND) in the Rose Garden at 4 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference call with higher education leaders at 1 p.m. and lead a White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting at 2:30 p.m.

The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. to consider H.R. 6172, a bill to extend three lapsed government surveillance authorities from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  The chamber is expected to consider four amendments to the bill today before voting on final passage Thursday.

The House will meet in a pro forma session, a brief meeting without conducting business, at 9:30 a.m.

The Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments by teleconference in two "faithless elector" cases considering whether members of the Electoral College are bound to support the popular vote winners in their states: Chiafalo v. Washington and Colorado Department of State v. Baca. (Listen live)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will attend a virtual fundraiser.

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