Coronavirus Roundup: Senators Ask Watchdog to Investigate Trump’s Testing Claims; Minority Health Experts ‘Conspicuously Quiet’ Amid Outreach Efforts
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
As of Tuesday morning, there have been over 2.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 120,000 deaths in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University’s data. While Italy used to symbolize the worst case scenario, “America’s new per capita cases remain on par with Italy's worst day — and show signs of rising further, with record hospitalizations in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas last week,” Politico reported on Monday. “That central cohesive role of a federal government has been lacking in the United States,” Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security’s Alexandra Phelan told Politico. “In a way, the U.S. has hamstrung itself.” Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
Citing the pandemic, President Trump issued a proclamation on Monday to suspend entry of certain foreign workers into the United States in order to protect jobs for American citizens in the faltering economy. The proclamation outlines how the Labor, State and Homeland Security department secretaries will enforce the measures, which are set to expire on December 31, 2020, but subject to change.
On Tuesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services updated its list of field and asylum office closings. The agency began its reopening process on June 4.
White House Economic Adviser Kevin Hassett plans to leave his unpaid post over the summer, Axios reported on Monday. Hassett was the Council of Economic Advisers chair from September 2017 to June 2019, and then returned to the White House in March to advise the administration on the failing economy as a result of the pandemic.
Top members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to Trump administration officials on Monday with questions about their oversight and coordination of coronavirus-related procurement. “In the absence of a centralized coordination effort at the federal level, health care providers and governments at all levels...have been forced to compete against each other to secure the supplies they need,” they wrote. “Given that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue in the coming months, we expect many of the challenges faced in reliably procuring necessary medical supplies to likewise continue.”
The coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color, but the federal government’s top minority health experts (Eliseo Perez-Stable and Felicia Collins) have been “conspicuously quiet, and have conducted minimal outreach to communities of color,” Stat News reported on Monday. They haven’t testified before Congress, appeared at White House briefings or done media interviews. “Instead, many of the administration’s attempts at engagement have fallen to Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, and have appeared scattershot,” the outlet reported. Also, “Ben Carson, a surgeon who serves as housing secretary and is the only Black member of Trump’s Cabinet, participated in one [outreach conference call], but some participants later said they were unsatisfied.”
The Trump administration is considering doing a massive evaluation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find its missteps in handling the pandemic and trying to include more political appointees at the agency. “The moves are among the White House’s efforts to deflect attacks on President Donald Trump and place them elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy,” according to a Politico report. “Protecting the president is seen as increasingly important by political aides as the general election approaches.”
Native American tribal nations –– which have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus––are imposing stricter social distancing and lockdown measures than their nearby states, which is creating tensions with governors and the federal government. For example, “Both the Cheyenne River and the Oglala Sioux tribes installed checkpoints on the roads into their reservations, drawing the ire of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who threatened a lawsuit in May, but never followed through. Later that month she asked President Trump to intervene,” The Hill reported. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs is now threatening to withdraw law enforcement funding if he does not remove the checkpoints.”
“Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning. He made similar comments at a rally over the weekend, after which Senate Democrats asked the Health and Human Services Department inspector general to investigate. “We ask that the HHS OIG conduct a review of all funding streams, programs and other congressional mandates related to COVID-19 diagnostic testing to determine whether any program was unduly slowed based on requests from the president or other political employees in the department,” wrote Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Edward Markey, D-Mass.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators urged the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to include at least an additional $25 million for more background checks in the next coronavirus stimulus package. Due to the increase in gun and ammunition sales during the pandemic, “additional [National Instant Criminal Background Check] examiners are critical in ensuring the timely and accurate completion of background checks,” they wrote.
Ellen Lord, Defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said during a briefing on Monday that nearly all the defense contracting companies have reopened. She also said the Defense Department requested additional funding in “lower double-digit billions” from the Office of Management and Budget to pay contractors for pandemic relief, as allowed in the CARES Act.
The Military Times reported on how the National Guard is preparing for hurricane season amid the pandemic. “What we’re seeing this year is there is an increased indication of the weather pattern that would be about ... 30 percent more storms this year,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Steven Nordhaus, the National Guard Bureau director of operations. Also, “social distancing, [personal protective equipment], screening and testing, sheltering and other impacts will cause us to change how we respond.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about the oversight of CARES Act coronavirus relief funds and how it compares to that of the 2008 economic stimulus package.
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