👋 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/ The Supreme Court agreed to take up a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act during its next term starting in October. The court, however, did not say when it will hear oral arguments, making it unlikely the justices will rule on the lawsuit before the election. In December, a federal appeals court ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, sending the case back to the trial judge for another look at whether the entire law is invalid or some parts can survive. (NBC News / Politico / New York Times / Washington Post / Associated Press)
- 📌 Day 1063: A federal appeals court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, but did not invalidate the entire law. The court ordered a lower court judge to evaluate whether other provisions of the law can survive without the mandate. (Politico / Axios / New York Times / Washington Post / CNN)
2/ Trump called the coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax” and accused them of “politicizing” the deadly virus, which has now spread to China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy and the U.S. Trump also blamed the press for acting hysterically about the virus, downplaying its dangers while he compared it to the flu. Experts say that the coronavirus is significantly more contagious than the flu and a vaccine is at least a year to 18 months away. Trump, however, told a a group of drug company executives at the White House to “get it done” on vaccines and antivirals to combat the coronavirus. Trump also authorized new travel restrictions after confirmation of the first coronavirus death in the U.S., saying there’s “no reason to panic” but additional cases in America were “likely.” (NBC News / Politico / CNN / The Guardian / Bloomberg)
Six people in Washington state have now died from coronavirus. Four people had been residents of a nursing center and two other people not connected to the center have also died in Washington. There are at least 18 confirmed cases of the illness in the state. New cases of the coronavirus were reported in New York, Florida, Illinois, and Rhode Island over the weekend. (Seattle Times / New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Vox / Reuters / Chicago Tribune / Bloomberg)
Researchers say coronavirus may have been spreading in Washington state undetected for six weeks. According to an analysis of the virus’s genetic sequence, samples from two people living in the same county – who didn’t have contact with one another – suggest that the virus spread through other people in the community after the first person was no longer contagious. (New York Times / Washington Post)
A top federal scientist warned that the lab where the government made test kits for the coronavirus was contaminated. The Trump administration has ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the apparent manufacturing defect at the CDC lab in Atlanta. Mike Pence, meanwhile, said “more than 15,000 testing kits” are in the mail to state and local clinics. (Axios / Politico / CNN)
FEMA is preparing for an “infectious disease emergency declaration” by Trump that would allow the agency to bring in extra funds and personnel to assist with the administration’s coronavirus response. (NBC News)
3/ The U.S. signed a deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. The agreement calls for the U.S. to pull all 12,000 troops out of the country within the next 14 months if the Taliban agrees to sever its ties with al Qaeda. The first phase of the withdrawal would bring U.S. troops numbers down to 8,600 within 135 days. In exchange, the Taliban has agreed to engage in talks with the Afghan government and commits not to allow terrorist groups to use Afghan soil to plot attacks against the U.S. or its allies. “Everybody’s tired of war,” Trump said. “It’s been a very long journey. It’s been a hard journey for everybody.” (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / USA Today)
4/ An Interior Department official inserted misleading information about climate change into the agency’s scientific reports, including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial. Indur Goklany was promoted in 2017 to the office of the deputy secretary and put in charge of reviewing the agency’s climate policies. Goklany pressured scientists to include misleading claims about climate change into at least nine different reports on environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the American West. The wording, known internally as the “Goks uncertainty language,” inaccurately claimed that there is a lack of consensus among scientists that the earth is warming while pushing misleading interpretations of climate science. (New York Times)
5/ A federal judge ruled that Trump’s decision to appoint Ken Cuccinelli as acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss said Cuccinelli was never eligible to become acting USCIS chief, and his appointment violated the FVRA because “he never did and never will serve in a subordinate role — that is, as an ‘assistant’ — to any other USCIS official.” All policies put in place under Cuccinelli are now void, including an order that limited the amount of time asylum-seekers could consult with an attorney before undergoing their initial “credible fear” interview with immigration officers. (Axios / Politico / Washington Post / NBC News / BuzzFeed News)
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