There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
President Trump has been at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since Friday following his coronavirus diagnosis. Over the weekend, there was confusion and, also, contradicting statements about his medical care, condition and timing of contracting the virus. Various members of the president’s inner circle and Republican lawmakers tested positive as well––most recently, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. With less than a month until the election, the outbreak at the White House completely changed the dynamic and logistics of the Trump campaign. Here are some other headlines from over the weekend and today that you might have missed.
The White House hasn’t asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do contact tracing for the event in the Rose Garden on Sept. 26 to commemorate Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, which became a coronavirus super-spreader event, The New York Times reported on Monday.
At least 11 Secret Service employees at the agency’s training center in Maryland had coronavirus in August, which could have been a result of training exercises or an indoor graduation ceremony where there was no social distancing, The New York Times reported on Friday. The Secret Service didn’t give many details about the outbreak, but told the paper it “has taken significant precautions at its training center to protect the health and welfare of its trainees and training staff.”
Current and former Secret Service agents were outraged that Trump rode outside the hospital on Sunday to greet his supporters as he posed a risk to the agents inside his SUV. “He’s not even pretending to care now,” an agent told The Washington Post. NBC News reported that the president and his close associates “dismissed” the risk for the agents. Additionally, Dr. James Phillips, Walter Reed attending physician and chief of disaster medicine for the The George Washington University Hospital’s Emergency Medicine department, tweeted, “The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play.”
National Security Council staff must now wear masks when they’re in all common areas of the White House, CNN reported on Friday. An email obtained by CNN also says, "Unless your duties require in-person business in the West Wing we respectfully ask you to avoid unnecessary visits."
White House officials have been raising concerns about the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed standards for approving a coronavirus vaccine, such as a requirement that researchers would monitor the side effects among a study’s participants for two months after shots are administered, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. “The White House doesn’t need to approve the guidelines, because they simply indicate the FDA’s thinking, rather than carrying the force of, say, a regulation,” said the report. “Yet the agency often seeks an administration’s stamp of approval so companies and the public will know what goals medicines need to meet in order to be cleared for use.”
Some advisers are incredibly frustrated over the White House’s lack of coronavirus precautions and handling of the information around the president’s diagnosis, The Daily Beast reported on Friday. Also, Dr. Scott Atlas, who joined the White House coronavirus task force in August and does not have any prior experience in public health or infectious diseases, has a large influence over the president. “Over the last several weeks, officials within the CDC, including several working with the White House coronavirus task force, have grown increasingly frustrated with the president, who they say has sidelined the nation’s top scientists and health representatives in an effort to control the narrative around the pandemic’s spread,” said the report. “While most admit the CDC has made mistakes...officials say the president has pushed aside top health officials throughout the administration primarily because they have questioned his approach to responding to the virus.”
The order in March to turn away migrants at the border in order to prevent further spread of the coronavirus came from the White House, not the CDC (as the administration said previously), The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday. “The policy was driven by immigration officials in the administration over the objections of senior officials at the CDC, the agency with the authority to issue the order, who warned the rationale behind enacting the pandemic policy was an inappropriate use of its public-health powers,” the report said.
A senior adviser to then-Health and Human Services Department top spokesman Michael Caputo, pressured the CDC to change a report in order to downplay the coronavirus risks for children as the president was pressuring schools to reopen for in-person learning, Politico reported on Monday. Paul Alexander, who also came under fire for trying to control the messaging from top public health officials, left the agency on Sept. 16 when Caputo went on medical leave.
The House Budget Committee released a report last week on how budget and staff cuts at the Internal Revenue Service have hindered its ability to properly function over the last decade and how the pandemic has exacerbated that. “Increased investment in the IRS will not only strengthen its ability to carry out emergency tasks, such as providing additional EIPs to struggling Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, and improve its core collection and enforcement activities,” said the report. “It will also strengthen the integrity of our tax system and ensure every taxpayer—especially wealthy tax cheats—pay their fair share.”
Four Democratic House committee chairs wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday to ask him to review the department’s use of CARES Act funds after reports they were not used for “lucrative contracts to defense contractors for non-medical projects” instead of increasing the production and distribution for medical supplies and personal protective gear. “As Congress considers additional coronavirus relief legislation, Americans deserve to know that the Trump administration is following the law and using relief funds for their intended purpose—to aid the nationwide pandemic response,” they wrote.
On Monday night, the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents Environmental Protection Agency employees, will hold a vote of no confidence on the agency’s leadership to keep employees safe as they return to workplaces. “Career public servants, including scientists, public health professionals, clean air and water enforcement personnel, as well as members of other EPA unions, will express their outrage over EPA’s determination to force workers back into EPA facilities for no mission-driven reason, despite agency employees successfully teleworking for months during the pandemic,” said a press release from the union on Friday. “Unnecessarily forcing EPA workers into offices will inevitably result in the spread of the virus, illness and possibly death.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode is an update on presidential transition efforts by former Vice President Joe Biden’s team and the Trump administration. Most of the work is being done remotely.
Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at email@example.com.