👋 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 Trump administration won’t meet its promised timeline of having a million coronavirus tests available by the end of the week. Lawmakers said the government is “in the process” of sending test kits out and that people will then need to be trained on how to use them, saying that the process could take days or weeks. Earlier this week, the FDA said the U.S. would have the “capacity” to perform up to 1 million tests by the end of this week, which was backed up by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Mike Pence also said that 1.5 million tests would be going out. The Senate, meanwhile, passed an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to fight the coronavirus. The package will be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature after passing the House yesterday. (Bloomberg / Politico / CNBC / CNN)
Patients in 18 states have tested positive or are presumptively positive for coronavirus. Officials in Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee and Texas said they had identified new cases in the last 24 hours. At least 162 people nationwide have been infected. (The Hill / The Nevada Independent)
COVID-19 cases in New York doubled overnight to 22 state-wide. At least eight of the new cases are connected to a lawyer from Westchester. Two of the new cases are in New York City and one is in Long Island. (CNBC)
The Dow closed down 3.5%, the S&P 500 dropped 3.3%, and the Nasdaq fell 3.1% on fears that the coronavirus will disrupt the global economy. (Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal / CNBC / New York Times / Washington Post)
2/ A State Department official blamed Russia for “swarms of online, false personas” spreading misinformation about coronavirus on social media, saying the “entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation is at play.” Lea Gabrielle, the coordinator of the government’s Global Engagement Center, testified to Congress that Russian actors using “state proxy websites,” official state-owned media, and fake accounts online were part of an effort to “take advantage of a health crisis, where people are terrified worldwide, to try to advance their priorities.” A Global Engagement Center report last week revealed nearly 2 million tweets over a three-week period that pushed coronavirus-related conspiracies. (Washington Post / Bloomberg)
3/ Trump – on Fox News – contradicted the World Health Organization estimate that the global mortality rate for coronavirus is 3.4%, calling it “a false number.” While the WHO’s estimate is likely to change as more is learned about the virus, Trump said his “hunch” is that the real figure “way under 1%.” The 3.4% figure was reached using the latest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. Trump also speculated that “thousands or hundreds of thousands” of people might have recovered “by, you know, sitting around and even going to work — some of them go to work but they get better.” (Politico / Business Insider)
4/ The International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into allegations of U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan – days after American officials signed a peace deal with the Taliban. The ICC says it has evidence that proves U.S. forces “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and later at CIA black sites in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the ruling “reckless,” noting that “The United States is not a party to the ICC, and we will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade court.” (New York Times / Politico / Associated Press / BBC / Axios / NBC News)
5/ A federal judge criticized Attorney General William Barr’s handling of Robert Mueller’s report, saying that Barr’s public statements about the report were “distorted” and “misleading.” Judge Reggie Walton cited “inconsistencies” between Barr’s statements and the public, partially redacted version of the report, saying Barr’s “lack of candor” called “into question [his] credibility and, in turn, the department’s” assurances to the court. The judge ordered the Justice Department to privately show him the portions of the report that were redacted so he could independently verify whether the Justice Department’s redactions were appropriate. (Washington Post / New York Times)
6/ Attorney General William Barr intervened in an immigration asylum case by narrowing the definition of torture for asylum seekers. Barr used a process known as “certification,” which allows him to overrule decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals and set binding precedent, after a Mexican national seeking asylum invoked torture as grounds for staying in the U.S. (Washington Post)
7/ Facebook removed ads run by Trump’s re-election campaign that urged people to “respond now” to an “Official Congressional District Census.” The ads linked to a survey on the Trump campaign’s website before asking them to donate money to the campaign. Facebook said the ads violated its policies to “prevent confusion around the official US census.” (Politico / CNN)
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