👋 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 heard oral arguments in the first major abortion case to come before the court since Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch took the bench. The case, June Medical Services v. Russo, challenges a 2014 Louisiana law, known as the “Unsafe Abortion Protection Act,” which requires doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges from a nearby hospital. When the law was signed, one of the state’s six abortion clinics had a physician who was compliant. Today, Louisiana has three abortion clinics and if the Supreme Court finds the law constitutional, all of three of them would stop offering the procedure. Louisiana’s law is identical to one from Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016 when Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was seen as a swing vote on the issue, was still on the bench. A decision in the case is expected by June. (NBC News / CBS News / CNN / New York Times / Washington Post)
2/ The Trump administration is considering paying hospitals for treating uninsured patients with coronavirus. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is in discussions about using the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse hospitals and medical facilities as concerns rise over the costs of treating some of the 27 million Americans without health coverage. (Wall Street Journal)
Public and private labs say they’re not close to reaching the federal government’s promise to produce one million coronavirus test kits by the end of the week. Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA, said that the CDC was working with a private manufacturer to increase the testing capacity of laboratories across the nation. White House officials, however, said that the number of tests actually administered could be considerably lower. (New York Times)
The CDC blocked a top scientist from the FDA from helping coordinate the government’s stalled coronavirus testing last month. The FDA had dispatched Timothy Stenzel to the CDC in an effort to expedite the development of lab tests for coronavirus, but the CDC made him wait overnight before granting him permission to the campus. Stenzel found evidence of lab contamination, which he reported to HHS officials. (Politico)
3/ Trump’s secretary of defense warned commanders not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House. Mark Esper issued the directive via a conference call, telling commanders deployed overseas that they must first clear any decisions related to protecting their troops with the White House. (New York Times)
- 📌 Day 1134: 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)
4/ The Federal Reserve made an emergency half-percentage-point rate cut, reflecting concerns about the coronavirus epidemic. It was the first unscheduled rate cut since the 2008 financial crisis. Stocks, meanwhile, fell sharply with the Dow, S&P500, and Nasdaq all pulling back more than 2.5%. Trump, who has no control over monetary policy, criticized the Fed, saying “the rate is too high. It should be eased down so we’re competitive” adding “we should have the low rate. But we have a Fed that doesn’t agree with that. I disagree with them.” (CNN / Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal / CNBC / New York Times / Washington Post)
5/ The Trump administration added a Trump-focused litmus test that candidates for political appointments must now complete. Candidates applying for a job in the Trump administration will have to explain what part of Trump’s campaign message “most appealed” to them and why. (CNN)
6/ A White House lawyer was named senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council. By promoting Michael Ellis, Trump has installed another loyalist to a key intelligence-related leadership position after appointing Richard Grenell, as acting Director of National Intelligence. (Politico / CNN)
- The White House withdrew its nomination for Pentagon comptroller. Trump nominated Elaine McCusker last year, who has been serving as acting comptroller and chief financial officer of the Defense Department. McCusker, however, fought Trump’s decision last year to stall $250 million in Ukraine military aid and emails documenting her objections leaked in January. Trump decision to withdraw McCusker’s nomination comes as he and his allies continue their push to oust members of his administration who have been deemed disloyal. It is unclear if McCusker will continue to serve in her current role now that her nomination has been withdrawn. (Politico / New York Post)
Why I’m not covering Super Tuesday. Many of you have asked why I’m “ignoring” the Democratic primary. I’m not ignoring it, but it’s helpful to explain why the coverage is missing. The answer is pretty simple: WTFJHT covers politics through the lens of the administration, the White House, and the Congress – in that order. Unless events directly intersect with one of those three entities, you can assume they’ll be gently ignored here (plus, major news events like Super Tuesday are better covered via live blogs and network television – two things WTFJHT does not do, or in the case of network television, have). Here’s an example: The wild fires in California won’t be covered by WTFJHT unless Trump comments on them or takes some executive action. However, when Trump calls for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to be “impeached” for their “quid pro quo” deal to both drop out and endorse Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, you can expect to hear about it. That’s right, Trump told a crowd at a rally in North Carolina that it “Sounds like they made a deal” when the “They both supported sleepy Joe.” Trump added: “No good. Quid pro quo. They made a deal. Impeach them. They should be impeached.” (ABC News / International Business Times / Politico)
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