👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ A whistleblower alleges that the Department of Health and Human Services “improperly deployed” more than a dozen workers to coronavirus quarantine locations who were “not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation.” The complaint alleges that the workers, who were not trained in wearing personal protective equipment, had face-to-face contact with repatriated Americans from China and were potentially exposed to coronavirus. The repatriated Americans were quarantined on military bases in California and Texas because they were considered at high risk for contracting the flu-like illness. The workers, however, returned to their normal duties, with some taking commercial flights back to their offices throughout the country. The complaint states that “appropriate steps were not taken to quarantine, monitor, or test [the workers] during their deployment and upon their return home.” (Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / New York Times)
2/ The White House instructed government health officials and scientists to seek approval from Mike Pence’s office before speaking publicly about the coronavirus outbreak. An administrative official said the move isn’t intended to muzzle government scientists and other health experts, but to make sure their efforts are being coordinated. Yesterday, Trump appointed Pence to lead the government’s coronavirus task force, which is nominally led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Dr. Deborah Birx, the director of the U.S. effort to combat HIV and AIDS, will serve as the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House and report to Pence, but serve on the task force that Azar chairs. Additionally, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, will also join the coronavirus task force. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / Politico)
- The three major U.S. stock indexes entered correction territory, each posting their biggest one-day point drops ever as investors worried the coronavirus may be spreading in the U.S. (Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / CNBC / New York Times / Washington Post)
3/ The Justice Department established an office to strip naturalized citizens of their rights. The new Denaturalization Section will review cases where individuals are believed to have illegally obtained U.S. citizenship. While denaturalizations can only occur in federal court, some Justice Department lawyers fear denaturalization lawsuits could be used against immigrants who have not committed serious crimes. Immigrant advocates called into question the standards used by the Trump administration to investigate those cases. (New York Times / CNN)
4/ The Trump administration “indefinitely postponed” a sea wall to protect New York City six weeks after Trump mocked the idea. Officials at the Army Corps of Engineers’ New York office refused to comment on whether they believed that Trump had influenced the decision, but in January Trump criticized the proposal to build a barrier to protect the region from flooding, calling it “foolish” and that “it will also look terrible.” Trump advised New Yorkers to get “mops and buckets ready.” While Trump cannot single-handedly cancel a Corps project because the funding is allocated by Congress, projects are determined by Corps officials, the Department of Defense, and the White House Office of Management and Budget. (New York Times)
5/ House Democrats are investigating why Trump told the Department of Veterans Affairs to “corner the market” on a new antidepressant drug that was promoted by a group of unofficial advisers at Mar-a-Lago. The chairmen of the House veterans affairs and oversight committees sent letters asking for emails and financial records from three advisers with no official government roles who act as an informal council and exert influence on the VA. In 2017, the Mar-a-Lago advisers – Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman – worked with the VA and Johnson & Johnson on a suicide-prevention awareness campaign. Trump later endorsed the antidepressant drug Spravato, pushing for the VA to “corner the market” on it despite doctors’ concerns about its safety and effectiveness. (ProPublica)
- 📌 Day 566: Three Mar-a-Lago members with no official government roles act as an informal council, exerting influence at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former administration officials show that the “Mar-a-Lago Crowd” speaks with VA officials daily regarding policy and personnel decisions. VA officials have also travelled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views. As one former administration official said: “Everyone has to go down and kiss the ring.” (ProPublica)
poll/ 34% of Americans are confident that their votes in the presidential election will be accurately counted. 45% of American say they are concerned about foreign governments tampering with voting systems or election results. (Associated Press)
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