On Capitol Hill, ousted U.S. vaccine chief Dr. Rick Bright is testifying today before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. In prepared remarks submitted to Congress, Dr. Bright warns, “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.” In a whistleblower complaint, Dr. Bright says he was forced out of his job at the Department of Health and Human Services after he resisted the Trump administration’s promotion of untested treatments for COVID-19.
The Daily Beast reports President Trump is pressuring officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change their COVID-19 death toll methodology in order to produce a lower figure. Trump’s push directly contradicts the views of Trump’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told Congress on Tuesday the death toll is likely higher than an official tally kept by Johns Hopkins researchers — now at more than 84,000 U.S. deaths.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number.”
On Wednesday, President Trump criticized Dr. Fauci over his congressional testimony, questioning Fauci’s assertion that schoolchildren might not be safe returning to classrooms in the fall.
President Donald Trump: “Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation. … Well, I was surprised — I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, it’s just — to me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has struck down a remain-at-home order backed by Democratic Governor Tony Evers, throwing efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin into chaos. The court’s conservative majority ruled 4 to 3, declaring Governor Evers’s “Safer at Home” policy “unlawful, invalid and unenforceable.” Within hours, some Wisconsin bars reopened and filled with patrons for the first time since nonessential businesses were closed on March 25. Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes tweeted in response, “Disappointed but not surprised. They put lives at risk by forcing an election, of course they were going to double down. It’s like no lives matter. This is bad.” Officials in Wisconsin’s two most populous areas, Milwaukee and Dane County, say they will continue to enforce remain-at-home orders locally.
The Labor Department reports nearly 3 million U.S. workers filed initial jobless claims over the week ending May 9. The coronavirus crisis has so far pushed about 36 million U.S. workers to file for unemployment benefits. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned the U.S. economy may face an extended crisis unless Congress provides a massive new round of economic relief.
Jerome Powell: “The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II. We are seeing a severe decline in economic activity and in employment, and already the job gains of the last decade have been erased.”
In Mexico, dozens of frontline nurses in Mexico City and the city of Texcoco held protests Wednesday demanding the government provide them with proper personal protective equipment. This is one of the nurses.
Nurse: “We haven’t been given personal protective equipment, masks, or N95 masks, less still goggles. We are purchasing all of our equipment. It’s quite expensive, and they don’t last for more than a week. And we can’t have those expenses, and we can’t continue to risk ourselves by using the bad-quality equipment we are being given here.”
Mexico now has over 40,000 known cases and an official death toll of over 4,200. Despite a surge in cases, officials are preparing to slowly reopen Mexico’s economy beginning May 18.
President Trump’s disgraced former campaign chair Paul Manafort was released from prison Wednesday and will serve the remainder of his sentence under home confinement. Manafort’s lawyers successfully argued his health and age made him especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 in prison.
Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmembers Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona are urging the Trump administration to release Native American rights activist Leonard Peltier from federal prison and grant him clemency. Peltier is a former member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He has long maintained his innocence. Peltier suffers from heart problems and diabetes. His supporters point to a Federal Bureau of Prisons program allowing the early release of elderly prisoners and people with underlying health conditions during the pandemic.
So far only 2,500 federal prisoners have been released to home confinement, even though COVID-19 has already caused the death of at least 340 people in jails and prisons around the U.S.
Federal agents with a search warrant on Wednesday seized the cellphone of United States Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The North Carolina Republican is under scrutiny for selling as much as $1.7 million worth of stock after receiving privileged briefings about the threat of the coronavirus before the pandemic led markets to crash. It’s an apparent violation of the STOCK Act — the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act.
Yahoo News reports the Justice Department has accidentally disclosed the name of a Saudi diplomat suspected of helping two al-Qaeda 9/11 hijackers. The identity of Musaed Ahmed al-Jarrah was revealed in a declaration by a senior FBI official in response to a lawsuit filed by survivors and families of 9/11 victims who accuse Saudi Arabia’s government of involvement in the attacks. The revelation comes after a two-year intense legal battle by the Justice Department to keep the name under wraps.
In California, Republican Mike Garcia has won a special election for a congressional district north of Los Angeles. Garcia defeated Christy Smith, a Democrat who opposes Medicare for All and California’s attempts to adopt a single-payer healthcare system. The district had been held by a progressive Democrat and supporter of Medicare for All — first-term Congressmember Katie Hill. Hill resigned from Congress last October after RedState.org and the Daily Mail published naked images of her without her consent and exposed her affair with a campaign aide.
Costa Rica is set to issue its first same-sex marriage registrations in late May, 18 months after the Costa Rican Constitutional Court gave lawmakers a year and a half to implement the reform. Reuters reports conservative lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a motion to delay the court’s ruling another 18 months, but it’s unclear whether it will gain enough support. Costa Rica is set to become the first Central American country to legalize marriage equality.