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Wake Up To Politics - October 6, 2020

It’s Tuesday, October 6, 2020. Election Day is four weeks away. The vice presidential debate is tomorrow. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Trump continues to downplay virus as he returns from hospital

President Donald Trump returned to the White House on Monday night after a three-day hospitalization.

“I feel good,” he told reporters once the presidential helicopter, Marine One, landed on the White House lawn. As he walked into the building, Trump — still infected with coronavirus — quickly took off his face mask and posed for a dramatic photo-op.

Several Trump allies had expressed hope that the president’s bout with COVID-19 would show him the seriousness of the virus, which he has admitted to downplaying in the past, and renew his focus on combatting it.

“He has experience now fighting the coronavirus as an individual,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine said on Fox News, seeking to turn the president’s diagnosis into a political advantage. “Those firsthand experiences, Joe Biden, he doesn’t have those.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Politico that the president could emerge “humbled” from the experience. Trump himself said in a video message from the hospital that he had “learned a lot” about COVID-19, the virus had already killed more than 200,000 Americans over the past six months.  

However, the president’s early moves since his discharge from Walter Reed suggest that his handling of coronavirus will go unchanged after suffering from it himself. “Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he urged his followers in a Twitter post Monday. “Don’t let it dominate your life.”

In a tweet on Tuesday, he once again likened coronavirus to the seasonal flu — a comparison doctors have rejected — and said that Americans “are learning to live with Covid” just as “we have learned to live with” the flu.

Many public health experts expressed outrage at the president’s blasé message: Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical School, called the tweets “dangerous” in an interview with the New York Times.

“It will lead to more casual behavior, which will lead to more transmission of the virus, which will lead to more illness, and more illness will lead to more deaths,” Schaffner said.

Scientists and doctors expressed similar outrage in response to the president removing his mask upon returning to the White House, even while in close proximity to numerous staff members. “Epidemiologists just wanna vomit,” Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted.

It is unclear what safety measures the White House will be taking now that Trump, an active coronavirus patient, will again be living and working there. Among others, concerns have been raised about the residence staffers, especially after the president potentially exposed Secret Service agents in a ride around Walter Reed hospital Sunday.

Two members of the White House residence staff have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus in recent weeks. They join numerous White House political aides who have been diagnosed with the virus: press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Monday that she had tested positive, as had two of her deputies. McEnany briefed reporters Sunday without wearing a face mask.

Several of the coronavirus infections within the Trump orbit are believed to have originated at a September 26 ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden celebrating Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. However, the White House has decided not to conduct contact tracing for the guests at the ceremony, even as the number of infected attendees grows.

“That is a dangerous situation,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infecious diseas expert, said of the Barrett ceremony in a radio interview Monday.

Although the president has been discharged from Walter Reed, quetions persist about his condition. Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physcian, told reporters Monday that the president was recovering but not “entirely out of the woods yet.” Conley refused to answer repeated inquires about whether the president had ever developed pneumonia, what his lung scans showed, or when his last negative coronavirus test was.

“I don’t want to go backwards,” Conley said as reporters pressed him on when Trump last tested negative.

The president, who has been potrayed by his campaign as easily triumphing over the virus, received three seperate COVID-19 treatments in his three days at Walter Reed, a level of care unavailable to most Americans.  

During the president’s hospital stay, coronavirus cases continued to rise in the United States. About 43,000 new infections are reported in the U.S. every day; on Friday, the day Trump announced his diagnosis, the nation recorded its highest single-day level of new cases (54,441) in nearly two months.

“I’m actually disturbed and concerned about the fact that our baseline of infections is still stuck at 40,000 cases a day,” Fauci told CNN. “That's no place to be.”

The Rundown

White House blocks FDA vaccine guidelines: “The White House has blocked new Food and Drug Administration guidelines on bringing potential vaccines for COVID-19 to market that would almost certainly have prevented their introduction before the Nov. 3 election.”

“At issue was the FDA’s planned instruction that vaccine developers follow patients enrolled in their trials for at least two months to rule out safety issues before seeking emergency approval from the agency. A senior administration confirmed the move Monday evening, saying the White House believed there was ‘no clinical or medical reason’ for the additional requirement.” (Associated Press)

Toomey to retire in 2022: “Republican Sen. Pat Toomey formally announced Monday he will neither run for reelection nor run for governor in 2022, a major blow to Republicans' long-term plans of competing statewide in Pennsylvania.”

“Toomey explained the curious timing of his announcement as a reaction to all the inquiries he’d received about running for either the governor’s office or reelection. The two-term fiscal conservative said he decided within the past few days to bow out of politics and head to the private sector and decided to disclose his plans in the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign because he wanted to be transparent.” (Politico)

Supreme Court returns for new term: “The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a Republican-backed South Carolina requirement that a witness sign each absentee ballot, rejecting Democratic contentions that the rule will make it harder for thousands of people to vote.”

“The justices, without any published dissents, on Monday blocked a federal judge’s order that had lifted the signature requirement because of the Covid-19 outbreak.” (Bloomberg)

--- “Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito issued a broadside against the high court's 2015 same-sex marriage decision on Monday when the court declined to hear a case brought by a former Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue a marriage license for such couples.” (NPR)

Corrections: A summary of the Supreme Court case Carney v. Adams that appeared in Monday’s newsletter included a typo and incorrectly suggested that all state judges are elected on a partisan basis. The sentence should have read: “Unlike in federal courts, where judges are appointed by presidents, prospective judges in some state courts must run for office on a political platform.”


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump has no public events scheduled.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will travel to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to deliver remarks on national unity. He will also attend a virtual fundraiser.

The Senate will convene at 11:30 a.m. for a brief pro forma session.

The House will convene at 9 a.m. for a brief pro forma session.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases:

  • Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (10 a.m.): Ordinarily, states are in charge of regulating how much prescription-drug middlemen have to pay pharmacies. The justices will decide whether a federal law overrides a state’s regulations.
  • Tanzin v. Tanvir (11 a.m.): If your free exercise of religion is substantially burdened by the government, can you sue individual government officials for damages under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? The plaintiffs in this case are Muslim-Americans who were recruited by the FBI to inform in terrorism investigations. When they refused to obey, in part because of their religious beliefs, the FBI allegedly retaliated by placing them on the No Fly list. The Supreme Court will decide whether the plaintiffs can sue FBI officials not only in the officials’ professional capacity, but also in their personal capacity.

Supreme Court case summaries contributed by Anna Salvatore.

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