Coronavirus Roundup: Lawmakers Ask for Emergency Review of ICE Whistleblower Claims, Administration Releases Vaccine Distribution Strategy
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
During a town hall on ABC News on Tuesday night, President Trump said he didn’t downplay the coronavirus early on, which contradicts what he told journalist Bob Woodward in March. Also last week, he said during a news conference, “perhaps” he misled the public in downplaying the virus in order to reduce the public’s panic. “Well, I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action,” he said during the event on Tuesday. “My action was very strong." Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration released its strategy on how it will distribute a coronavirus vaccine to states, localities and tribes as soon as the Food and Drug Administration approves one. It was developed by the Health and Human Services and Defense departments and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The federal government is procuring hundreds of millions of doses of safe and effective vaccines, and has contracted with McKesson for purposes of vaccine distribution, such that no American will be charged for either the COVID-19 vaccine or its distribution,” said the strategy. “Various plans, supported by the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, are under development with the objective of ensuring no one will be charged any out–of-pocket expenses for the administration of the vaccine either. The objective is to ensure no one desiring vaccination will face an economic barrier to receiving one.”
The bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus introduced a “common ground” coronavirus relief framework on Tuesday. The goal of the approximate $1.5 trillion package is to find a middle ground between House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the White House as they have yet to reach an agreement. “While we appreciate every attempt at providing critical relief to American families, the Problem Solvers Caucus’ proposal falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy,” said House committee chairs in a joint statement. Meanwhile, White House Chief-of-Staff Mark Meadows told Politico the proposal was “very thoughtful and certainly merits consideration” and “while there are some priorities outlined that are inconsistent with the White House’s initial proposal, it could provide a basis for further conversations with the speaker and leader in the Senate.”
Michael Caputo, top Health and Human Services Department spokesman, who has come under fire for his remarks about government scientists during a live video on Facebook on Sunday, held an emergency staff meeting on Tuesday to apologize and suggested he might leave his role soon, Politico reported. “He blamed his recent behavior on a combination of physical health issues and the toll of fielding death threats against his family,” said the report. “Caputo also acknowledged that he had never read one of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, despite his team's ongoing efforts to try to edit those documents.” Yahoo News obtained the video and posted it to Twitter on Tuesday evening.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration head echoed Trump on the pandemic on a recent podcast to the dismay of current and former officials who claim she has politicized the agency. “What is this nonsense that somehow it’s unsafe to return to school?” said SAMHSA administrator Elinore McCance-Katz, Stat News reported on Tuesday. “There was no agreement to this, to this nonstop restriction and quarantining and isolation and taking away anything that makes people happy…You can’t go to a movie, you can’t go to a football game.”
Democrats on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday to ensure that they provide the Government Accountability Office with information on “Operation Warp Speed” for the watchdog’s ongoing reviews. In July, the subcommittee asked GAO to do periodic reviews for “real time overnight” on the vaccine development process, which it agreed to do.
Azar led a “pressure campaign” and then overrode the FDA on its coronavirus testing rules, Politico reported on Tuesday. In late August, “overriding objections from FDA chief Stephen Hahn, Azar revoked the agency’s ability to check the quality of tests developed by individual labs for their own use,” said the report. In a separate matter, FDA top policy official Lowell Schiller stepped down on Tuesday, Politico reported on Wednesday.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked the Homeland Security inspector general to do an “emergency investigation” into the Immigration and Customs Enforcement nurse’s whistleblower complaint detailing horrific medical conditions and coronavirus dangers at the Georgia detention center at which she works. The lawmakers noted in a letter on Tuesday that “unfortunately, this is not the first time that serious concerns have been raised about this facility.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked the president to extend the federal government’s full funding for her state’s National Guard deployments through the end of the year due to the pandemic and raging wildfires. Presently, the full cost-share for the approximate 850 members is set to expire on Sept. 30.
Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany holds a press briefing at 1 p.m.
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is about HHS’s recent $250 million contract for coronavirus communications and allegations of political interference at the public health agencies.
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