Transportation Security Administration agents process passengers at the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport on June 10.

Transportation Security Administration agents process passengers at the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport on June 10. David Zalubowski / AP

Coronavirus Roundup: TSA Goals Shaped by Pandemic; Senators Question Immigration Court Reopenings 

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

The top officials leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus response testified before a House committee on Tuesday about the “inevitable” increase in cases this fall and how they are preparing. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

On Tuesday, the Justice Department publicized a letter it sent New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio on June 19 claiming the city is enforcing social distancing rules for religious gatherings, but not protests for racial justice and police reform. “The Department of Justice does not seek to dictate how New York City sets its enforcement priorities,” wrote Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “But in doing so, we urge you to afford gatherings for religious exercise the same respect that you afford gatherings to exercise other First Amendment rights.” The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the day before he was removed, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman refused to sign such a letter. 

Twelve Democratic senators wrote to the Executive Office for Immigration Review on Tuesday with questions and concerns on its reopening process. Immigration courts across the country are set to resume on or before July 6, and the lawmakers said they “fear that you are rushing to reopen the courts without a rigorous process or sufficient communication with stakeholders.” 

About 700 Agriculture Department employees in the Washington, D.C., region are returning to offices in the coming days. Also, more Energy Department employees (the exact number is unclear) in the area will be going back starting next Monday, Federal News Network reported on Tuesday. 

The Trump administration plans to end funding and resources for 13 coronavirus testing sites across five states (Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado and Pennsylvania) this month, according to a Talking Points Memo report. “A [Federal Emergency Management Agency] spokesman directed TPM to press releases that the agency had issued about ‘transitioning’ the testing sites from federal to state control,” the outlet reported. “When TPM asked whether FEMA would adjust extension of the sites in areas where cases have skyrocketed recently, a spokesman acknowledged the inquiry and did not reply further.”

President Trump said on Tuesday he was not kidding when he said he ordered the slowing of coronavirus testing. Meanwhile, the four top administration health officials testified on Tuesday they were not directed to slow down testing following the president’s remarks at a campaign rally over the weekend and tweets. “I know for sure none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House coronavirus task force member. “That just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing.”

Senate Democrats wrote to the National Association of State Election Directors, National Association of Secretaries of State and Justice Department on Tuesday encouraging them to take proactive measures to prevent voter suppression and disenfranchisement in the November elections amid the pandemic. 

Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske outlined his goals for the next two years in a plan released on Tuesday, which “considers lessons learned thus far from the ongoing response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.” One of his goals by 2022 is to “establish and implement programs that ensure the resilience of the workforce and its ability to continue operations during exigent circumstances (e.g., funding shutdowns, pandemics, localized disruptions).” 

The Justice Department inspector general reported on Wednesday the department obligated over $959 million, or 95% of its CARES Act funds, as of June 12. The new report listed the oversight audits it initiated and gave examples of how the money is being spent.  

Gregory Burel, former Strategic National Stockpile director who retired in January, will testify before a Senate committee on Wednesday. “The [stockpile] was designed to be just one piece of the public health preparedness puzzle. State, local, tribal and territorial or SLTT public health have a vital role to play,” he said in his opening statement. “These levels of government are responsible for planning in their unique jurisdiction, so that federal assets can be called upon when the options have run out, ideally enabling them to be more effective and efficient. However, the capabilities of the SLTT can only respond effectively when they are built and maintained through proper funding.”

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