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Diplomats to Biden: Don’t give the plum Europe posts to donors and allies

Politico -

As President Joe Biden finalizes his first batch of political nominees for ambassadorships, veteran diplomats are offering a warning: don’t make Europe a playground for wealthy donors and longtime friends and allies.

So far, it appears the president isn’t keen on listening. As in past administrations, political appointees are the leading contenders for ambassadorships in France, Belgium and Ireland, according to two people familiar with the process. And career diplomats are not likely to fill posts in Ukraine and at the European Union, even after Donald Trump’s first impeachment raised concerns about the treatment of such diplomats there, and spotlighted the dangers that can come when the positions are viewed as political outposts.

“The truth of the matter is we’re just going back to business as usual,” said Brett Bruen, a former U.S. diplomat with many contacts inside the State Department.

Biden is in the final stages of vetting some political nominees and expects to announce his first such batch in the coming weeks, according to four people, including donors and former administration officials.

Dozens of ambassadorships are expected to be given to campaign donors, supporters and longtime friends of the president in the next several months, though names could still change based on the vetting process, they say. Ambassadorships almost always require Senate confirmation.

Leading contenders for Europe include longtime Biden friend and former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut in Ireland; donor and real estate developer Michael Adler in Belgium, Women for Biden leader Denise Bauer in France, and Biden friend and adviser Mark Gitenstein for the European Union, according to the two people familiar with the lists. Bauer and Gitenstein served as ambassadors for former President Barack Obama.

No one expects Biden to give the majority of posts in Europe to career diplomats, who often find themselves instead competing for challenging roles in less developed parts of the world. But current and former U.S. diplomats said they were hoping for Biden to name career employees as ambassadors in countries such as Germany and Poland to, at a minimum, send a message that he values the Foreign Service and recognizes that even those countries face difficult challenges today. Those challenges include a seemingly more aggressive Russia, an increasingly influential China, as well transnational tests like climate change, energy supply chains, and migration.

“Right now, every post has significance,” said Kenneth Yalowitz, a former career Foreign Service officer who served as ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.

Between 1960 and mid-2016, more than 70 percent of people nominated for ambassadorships in Western European countries were political appointees, according to the American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats’ union. The number was roughly 20 percent for Eastern European countries.

Biden has been considering an array of names to fill the roughly 190 available ambassador slots, including Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain, as ambassador to the U.N. World Food Programme, a mission based in Rome; former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for Japan; Comcast executive and donor David Cohen for Canada; and former senator and Interior secretary Ken Salazar for Mexico.

Other potential nominees include: former career diplomat Nicholas Burns for China; banker Tom Nides or former Florida congressman Robert Wexler for Israel; and Julie Smith, a longtime Biden adviser, to represent the United States at NATO.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who co-chaired Biden’s 2020 campaign, is being considered for ambassador to India, according to four people familiar with the position. He was passed over for several posts in administration, including Transportation secretary, and had been interested in a high-profile post, with one close ally saying he angled for ambassador to Mexico. (Garcetti is half-Mexican and half-Jewish.) But another person close to the process cast doubt on the possibility, saying Garcetti’s problems in Los Angeles — including harassment allegations against a longtime former political adviser — made an appointment of that type exceedingly difficult.

“They want to stick him somewhere” further away — a place that doesn’t get as much attention as Mexico City, the person said.

Most presidents in recent decades have given 30 percent of ambassadorships to political appointees, including major campaign donors. Trump increased that number to roughly 44 percent, which included posts in some countries that usually went to career diplomats, such as Thailand and Kenya. That’s why the pressure is on Biden to revert to a smaller number.

A White House official said Thursday the administration expects the percentage of political ambassadors to be lower than that of the previous administration and closer to the traditional amount. Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment this week when asked about ambassadors at her daily briefing. “Hopefully we’ll have some more formal announcements on ambassadors soon,” she said.

Biden has tasked several aides to help in the process of filling out the ambassador ranks: Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president; Cathy Russell, director of the White House presidential personnel office; and Katie Petrelius, special assistant to the president for presidential personnel.

Biden refused to rule out the practice of rewarding donors and allies with ambassadorships during the Democratic primary but said that anyone he appointed would be qualified. So far, Biden has nominated 11 ambassadors, including career diplomats for Vietnam, Somalia and Algeria, as well as Chris Lu, Obama’s former deputy Labor secretary, to be ambassador to the U.N. for Management and Reform.

“The Foreign Service has been hurt in a way it hasn't been hurt in modern times and you have to build it back up and these countries are demanding it,” said a longtime Democratic donor.

Past political ambassadors defend their nominations, arguing they often have their own money to spend on diplomatic events in expensive countries where U.S. taxpayer dollars are limited and have closer relationships with the president, White House officials, and members of Congress.

“There was a sense when they were talking to me that they were also talking to Barack Obama and the poor career Foreign Service officer has probably never met these people, no ability to call Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi or the White House and make something happen,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), a Democratic fundraiser who served as ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Career diplomats acknowledge that there have been some excellent political appointee ambassadors in the past. They note that not all political appointees are campaign donors; some are subject matter experts. They also concede that not all career diplomats make good ambassadors.

But when POLITICO reported that the State Department recently circulated a list of postings reserved for career employees, it did not go over well in some corners of the Foreign Service, where people had hoped it would be longer and more substantive. There was specific disappointment among some that positions like ambassador to Ukraine and ambassador to the European Union may be reserved for political appointees.

Marie Yovanovitch, the career diplomat who served during the Trump years in the Ukraine position, was forced out of the job amid pressure from the then president and his allies who were trying to push Ukraine’s government to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. The European Union role was held by Gordon Sondland, a hotel executive who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Sondland, who intervened in Ukraine policy, was a key impeachment witness, during which he said that he was part of a quid-pro-quo operation orchestrated by his boss’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

A Biden State Department official stressed that the list that has been circulated is not final, and that additional positions may still become available to career employees instead of being given to outside political appointees.

Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association, said overall he has been encouraged by the number of career diplomats who have been nominated to senior policymaking positions and ambassadorships so far.

“We hope to see many more nominated, and to see the traditional balance between career and political appointees restored,” he said. “We also believe it essential that all nominees be fully qualified as required by the Foreign Service Act of 1980, and not nominated solely as a reward for political contributions, a practice prohibited by law. That has not always been true in the past, and we hope it will be the norm going forward."

Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.

MAGA world pans Stefanik

Politico -

Donald Trump has called Elise Stefanik “a new Republican star,” a “smart communicator” and — perhaps his highest praise — “tough.”

But the MAGA faithful aren’t so sure.

Within minutes of Trump’s endorsement of the New York congresswoman for GOP conference chair on Wednesday, top MAGA voices erupted in anger — a rare break with the former president. The invective aimed at Stefanik, who was perceived to be insufficiently conservative and a relative newcomer to the Trump cause, continued to zoom through the MAGA-sphere on Thursday.

The Columbia Bugle — an anonymously-run Twitter account with nearly 179,000 followers, including high-profile Trump movement influencers — described Stefanik as “a slightly less annoying America Last Republican.” Lou Dobbs, the former Fox Business show host who was one of Trump’s fiercest cable television supporters, dismissed her as a “RINO.”

Others, like pundits Ann Coulter and Raheem Kassam, editor in chief of the populist online outlet National Pulse, went on a retweeting spree, highlighting writer after writer, tweet after tweet, questioning Stefanik’s commitment to the Trump movement’s core tenets, particularly on immigration.

.@RepStefanik? Comment?” Jenna Ellis, formerly Trump’s senior legal counsel, pointedly asked on Thursday, retweeting a thread highlighting Stefanik’s record.

Popular MAGA news and opinion sites were less sparing, with Revolver calling her a “neocon establishment twit”, and Big League Politics, founded by Breitbart alumni, slamming her for only getting on the Trump defense train in 2019 and characterizing her as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Though she received praise and support from some MAGA-friendly members of Congress, it was a hostile grassroots reception for the congresswoman pitched as a Trump-approved option to replace Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney in GOP leadership.

Cheney’s ouster from the no. 3 Republican position in the House appears almost certain following her sustained criticism of Trump and his baseless claims of election fraud, a politically suicidal position in a party where the former president remains popular with the GOP base.

“[Stefanik] is the identity of a swamp creature, and she has probably the most liberal voting record of anybody who represents a strong Republican district,” said Ryan James Girdusky, a conservative political consultant and the author of the National Populist newsletter.

While Stefanik is seen within the party as a rising star and prolific fundraiser — particularly after aggressively defending Trump during his impeachment trials — Trump’s populist base views her quite differently. If they don’t eventually come on board, that could mean a limited tenure for Stefanik as a member of the leadership team.

Several MAGA news sites cited Stefanik’s voting record, where she backed the then-president’s position only 78 percent of the time, making Cheney’s record of 93 percent look slavishly loyal in comparison. Stefanik compiled that record despite representing a comfortably Republican district that Trump won easily in 2020.

Even worse, she started her career working in the George W. Bush White House. “I’ve heard from several conservative members of Congress this same concern over her voting record. We need answers,” Ellis tweeted Wednesday.

Stefanik’s office did not respond to a request for comment. But on Thursday morning, the congresswoman made an appearance on Steve Bannon’s podcast War Room to tout her most important MAGA bona fides: supporting the Arizona recount and promising to investigate false claims of election fraud. “We want transparency and answers for the American people — what are the Democrats so afraid of?” she said.

The backlash against Stefanik didn’t surface out of nowhere. For years, she’d been viewed with suspicion by hardcore elements of the MAGA base, with Big League politics running several pieces slamming her for her disloyalty to figures such as provocateur Laura Loomer. She criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord and failed to pass the MAGA smell test on several key issues: immigration, border control, abortion and the war in Afghanistan.

“She ties with a couple other Republicans for the worst career voting record on immigration in New York,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the anti-immigration Center on Immigration Studies, ticking off a few of her previous positions: a yes on H-2B visas, the Farm Workers Modernization Act, and the Hong Kong Refugee bill, and a no on Trump’s child border separation policies.

“Obviously, Republicans in New York are likely to be more liberal, just because that's the environment they're in,” Krikorian said. “I think everybody understands that. But even by the standards of New York state Republicans, she's bad on immigration.”

Another issue that could harm Stefanik among MAGA supporters is her record on Afghanistan. As recently as 2019, she co-sponsored a bill with Cheney to keep 10,000 troops in the region for a year and stop troop reduction — a bill that was highly controversial among anti-war MAGA voices, who had backed Trump’s talks with the Taliban at the time.

“I understand that everyone hates Liz Cheney. I am not a fan of Liz Cheney. She should have never been in House leadership,” said Girdusky. “However, we are exchanging Liz Cheney, who at least votes correct, even though she bashes Trump publicly, [for] somebody who doesn't bash Trump publicly but votes with them almost none of the time.”

Representatives for both Trump and McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.

Krikorian, whose institute is not weighing in on the conference chair election, noted that while Cheney’s downfall was sparked by her criticism of Trump, what had truly tanked her was her ideology, bolstered by her family name: The Wyoming congresswoman’s neoconservative beliefs have no place in today’s GOP.

Stefanik’s positions weren’t much more palatable to the party base, in Krikorian’s view.

“Trump, in his gut, does think we should get out of Afghanistan, he does think there's too many illegal aliens coming over the border,” he observed. “It's not that he doesn't believe any of that stuff. It's just that he's kind of a narcissistic guy. And if people flatter him, he's for them, regardless of what they believe. And so the question is: Do you go for Trumpism? Or do you go for Trump?”

Millions head back to work amid employer confusion over masks, vaccines

Politico -

Millions of people are flooding back to work as the coronavirus ebbs, but businesses say the federal government's failure to answer pressing questions over masks and vaccinations are complicating their reopening efforts.

Despite President Joe Biden’s new goal of getting 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July 4, and his call for every employer to offer paid time off for workers to recover from the shot, the government has yet to answer whether it’s legal for businesses to offer vaccine incentives to their staff.

While some employers have already offered paid time off, swag or other perks, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency in charge of policing federal anti-discrimination law, hasn't clarified whether such incentives could "coerce" employees into getting the shot or disclosing their vaccination status in order to get the benefits.

And although the CDC said last month that vaccinated Americans only need to wear a mask when gathering in indoor public places, it’s unclear how that applies to private workplaces like factories and offices.

At the same time, the Labor Department is finalizing long-delayed Covid-19 emergency workplace safety rules that would last through November, which many expect to require workers to wear face masks, among other measures.

“How they handle the vaccine issue, the high number of people getting vaccinated, is one of the central questions around the [emergency temporary standard],” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The uncertainty comes at a crucial time for the economy, as hundreds of thousands of people are heading back to work. Nearly 1 million new jobs were created in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest jobs report out on Friday is expected to show that job growth accelerated even further in April, as more Americans got vaccinated and warmer weather began across the nation.

Worker safety advocates question the business community’s concerns, countering that worker safety rules will provide clarity and are essential to getting the economy back to normal.

Biden instructed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to decide whether to issue emergency Covid-19 workplace safety rules by March 15. After weeks of delay, OSHA sent the rules to the Office of Management and Budget for review at the end of April, the first step before they are made public and go into effect.

“I think that industry is going to find every excuse they can to fight against the rule, and to raise that whatever it is that OSHA does is going to be an unbearable burden,” said Debbie Berkowitz, an adviser at OSHA during the Obama administration.

“I find that disingenuous, at best, because I think what's really needed to get workers back into the economy, and to get the economy open, is that workers know there are requirements that employers have to meet to protect them," added Berkowitz, now with the left-leaning National Employment Law Project. “And whatever OSHA does is going to be a minimum.”

Safety experts also point out a new report from the CDC this week concluded that if businesses were to slack off on taking workplace safety precautions outside of ensuring workers are vaccinated, it “could lead to substantial increases in severe Covid-19 outcomes, even with improved vaccination coverage.”

But business groups caution that whichever way the Biden administration falls when it comes to the protections employers must provide to their workers could reverberate throughout the economy.

“It could conceivably have a very significant negative impact, depending upon what it expects employers to do, and how much they have to change what they've been doing all along, to protect their employees,” Freedman said of the emergency temporary standard being finalized by OSHA, which is not yet public.

“There are cost issues associated with that, there are operational issues associated with that," he added, "if it requires employees to be out of the workplace for extended periods because of certain quarantining or exposure questions, then that will certainly affect the ability for companies and employers to maintain their operations. “

Some business groups say they are frustrated over the daylight between the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the requirements expected out of the forthcoming safety rules from the Labor Department.

In December, the CDC clarified that all workers should wear masks in accordance with federal recommendations. But last month, the CDC’s latest guidance said fully vaccinated people could gather indoors with other fully vaccinated individuals without a mask or social distancing. The agency also said vaccinated people could gather in small groups outdoors without masks even if a group includes unvaccinated individuals.

The agency didn’t specify how the new rules should be applied in the workplace, only cautioning that people “will still need to follow guidance” at their job.

Safety advocates and business groups expect that the Covid-19 workplace safety rules currently being finalized by the Biden administration will include a mask mandate for workers.

“The biggest challenge employers are going to face without question is going to be some sort of mask requirement,” said Eric Conn, a management side attorney at the firm Conn Maciel Carey, adding that there’s “tension” between a potential workplace mask mandate and what the CDC has been issuing in guidance related to vaccinated individuals.

A “really big tension that employers are going to face is, even if the rule does allow for some relaxation of mask or distancing requirements based on vaccination status, how do you get reliable information about your employees vaccination status?” Conn added, “that has been a big challenge that employers have faced.”

Inquiring about someone’s vaccination status also raises concerns about employers’ liability under federal discrimination and privacy law, business groups say.

The EEOC said that asking an employee to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination wouldn’t violate disability law, but cautioned that any follow-up questions “such as asking why an individual did not receive a vaccination, may elicit information about a disability.”

Edwin Egee, vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, cautioned that if OSHA’s workplace safety standards also differentiate how businesses treat vaccinated and unvaccinated workers “it immediately creates a problem for employers because we’ve got to know the difference between who's vaccinated and who's not vaccinated.”

“You can ask,” Egee said, “but you’ve got to be really careful that you don't implicate the ADA when you ask,” he said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The EEOC hasn’t updated its Covid-19 vaccine guidance for employers since December, when Donald Trump was still president. The differences between the CDC and the Labor Department, Egee says, could “slow down the entire overall recovery.”

Dozens of organizations including the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers sent a letter to the EEOC in February demanding guidance on vaccine incentives.

During a public meeting last week, the commission raised several questions about the issue to members of the business and worker advocacy communities, including whether cash vaccine incentives would be more coercive for lower-wage workers.

The commissioners also questioned whether providing swag like T-shirts or "I'm vaccinated" stickers would pressure employees unable to get the vaccine to disclose a disability or medical condition to colleagues.

The agency confirmed in April that it would provide guidance soon; but it has yet to do so.

“That’s a big question that manufacturers have asked,” NAM’s director of labor and employment policy, Drew Schneider, said. “We’re looking forward to [the guidance] so our folks know they’re on solid legal footing.”

Some employers are already providing incentives nonetheless.

"The reality of the situation is that employers are moving ahead, absent any kind of assurances from EEOC Freedman said. "They have been doing this as as they feel they can or need to."

Eleanor Mueller contributed to this report.

Campus Ideology's Slippery Slope

Real Clear Politics -

Over half a century ago, Columbia University professor Wallace Sayre coined the aphorism "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low." Those were the days.

I Can't Ignore What America Has Done to Black People

Real Clear Politics -

In 2008, during a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, to elect her husband as the first Black president, Michelle Obama said it was then, for the first time in her adult life, that she felt proud of her country. I was 19 years old; this would be my first election. I had never felt proud of my country. I had never heard anyone say that out loud before.

Cheney Wants to Save U.S. Democracy From Trump

Real Clear Politics -

Liz Cheney published an op-ed on Wednesday that, five years ago, would have contained little but banal truisms - "At the heart of our republic is a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power among political rivals in accordance with law... We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process," etc.

Voters Can Spot Radical Left-Wing Policy

Real Clear Politics -

While one special election doesn't necessarily set the pattern for the midterms-which are still 18 months off-both parties should study the results of Saturday's "jungle primary" to fill the vacancy created by the death of Texas Sixth District Republican Rep. Ron Wright.

Gov. Newsom's Team Is Thrilled Jenner Is Running in Recall

Real Clear Politics -

Jenner's Republican cash and Trumpy advisers could go a long way toward making Newsom look palatable, his allies believe. But there's still a fraught summer to navigate. I think he's uninterested in the problems of the little people, says a Democratic strategist. And the people are revolting, folks.

Trump Should Be Banned From Facebook Forever

Real Clear Politics -

Let's remember: Trump wasn't banned from Facebook for an unfortunate choice of words that caused him to run afoul of the rules. He was banned for inciting violence, writes Kara Alaimo. Now that he's not president, there is no defensible reason to allow Trump -- a man who misused his power and the platform--back on. He should be banned permanently.

Viral Post Misleads on COVID-19 Death Reporting, Vaccine Monitoring

FactCheck -

SciCheck Digest

A tweet that migrated across social media platforms falsely suggests that any deaths in the 20 days following positive COVID-19 tests are to be attributed to the disease, “no matter what other factors were involved.” There is no such policy. And there’s also no evidence for the post’s suggestion that the vaccines are causing deaths that are being ignored.

How lethal is COVID-19? How lethal is COVID-19?

It’s difficult to know exactly how deadly COVID-19 is, but as the World Health Organization has written, studies estimate that the infection fatality ratio, or percentage of deaths out of all infections, is between 0.5% and 1%. The true rate isn’t clear, since the pandemic is ongoing and not all infections have been diagnosed.

The case fatality rate, or percentage of deaths out of confirmed cases, was 1.8% in the United States as of March 31.

An individual’s risk of death may be significantly higher or lower than what these numbers suggest, depending on a person’s age or health conditions. For example, the CDC estimates that the risk of death is more than 600 times higher for someone 85 years and older as compared with someone between the ages of 18 and 29.

Link to this

How safe are the vaccines? How safe are the vaccines?

No serious safety concerns were found in the clinical trials of the vaccines that have been authorized for use in the United States. 

On April 13, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration recommended “a pause in the use” of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The agencies lifted the pause on April 23, shortly after the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 10-4 to resume the vaccine’s use with a warning about a rare, severe type of blood clot and low blood platelets that mostly occurred in women aged 18 to 49 years old. At its April 23 meeting, the ACIP reported that, as of April 21, there were 15 cases of the rare clotting condition combined with low levels of platelets among women, including three deaths, out of nearly 8 million vaccinations.

Since the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in December 2020, a small number of people in the U.S. have had serious allergic reactions following receipt of the shots. 

Some allergic reactions, including a potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis, are to be expected with any vaccine. Fortunately, that kind of severe reaction is typically very rare, occurs within minutes of inoculation and can be treated. 

As of Jan. 18, there have been 2.5 cases of anaphylaxis per million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.7 cases per million of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who develop anaphylaxis are usually given epinephrine, the drug found in EpiPens. None of these reactions has led to death. On Feb. 26, Johnson & Johnson said it had received a report of one anaphylactic reaction in South Africa.

To make sure serious allergic reactions can be identified and treated, all people receiving a vaccine should be observed for 15 minutes after getting a shot, and anyone who has experienced anaphylaxis or had any kind of immediate allergic reaction to any vaccine or injection in the past should be monitored for a half hour. People who have had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose or one of the vaccine ingredients should not be immunized. Also, those who shouldn’t receive one type of COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving a different type of vaccine.

Link to this

Full Story

COVID-19 is dangerous: The disease is estimated to have caused more than 579,000 deaths in the U.S. alone, and it can cause lingering health problems for some who get it. The COVID-19 vaccines now authorized for emergency use in the U.S., meanwhile, were found in clinical trials to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic illness. Nearly 250 million doses have been administered thus far.

But a post circulating online distorts the facts to imply that COVID-19 deaths are inflated by a supposed mandate concerning positive COVID-19 tests. It also baselessly suggests that vaccines are causing deaths that are being ignored.

“Funny isn’t it, if you die within 20 days of testing positive for the Rona (no matter what other factors were involved) You’ll be counted as a COVID death,” the May 2 tweet reads. “However, if you drop dead within 24 hours of taking the vaccine it has nothing to do with it.”

One Instagram post of a screenshot of the tweet garnered more than 32,000 likes. Another earned more than 8,000 likes.

But there is no rule that those who “die within 20 days of testing positive” for COVID-19 are to be automatically classified as having died from the disease, “no matter what other factors were involved.”

We’ve previously addressed similar false claims surrounding COVID-19 death certificates and have explained that there is no federal law governing the death certificate process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does provide guidance on certifying deaths, including some specific to COVID-19.

The CDC specifically advises that “COVID-19 should not be reported on the death certificate if it did not cause or contribute to the death.”

And there is no evidence that any state or local agencies have such a 20-day rule, either.

It’s possible that COVID-19 could be listed as a contributing factor to — but not the underlying cause of — a death in some cases. But at least 90% of death certificates citing COVID-19 to date list the disease as the underlying cause, or the illness that triggered the chain of events leading to the person’s death, according to CDC data available as of May 5.

It’s worth noting, in the context of the baseless implication that COVID-19 deaths are being systematically misreported, that excess death estimates further reinforce the toll of the pandemic. From March 2020 through the start of 2021, the U.S. experienced about 20% more deaths than would have been expected in the same time period, analyses show. The estimates are higher than the official COVID-19 death toll for that period; excess mortality can also capture indirect effects of the pandemic, such as people who may have died from other causes because they avoided seeking medical attention.

The tweet’s suggestion that COVID-19 vaccines are causing deaths that are not being investigated also doesn’t carry weight.

The U.S. government has several monitoring systems in place to track reports of adverse events — including the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Patients and caregivers are asked to report “any clinically important medical event or health problem that occurs after vaccination” to VAERS, even if they’re not sure if it was a result of the vaccine.

The CDC and Food and Drug Administration review each case report of deaths that follow vaccination to determine whether they were caused by the vaccine. There has not been an established link for the overwhelming majority of the reports.

The FDA’s fact sheet for health care providers administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now says that “a causal relationship” between the vaccine and rare cases involving both blood clots and low blood platelets “is plausible” based on the evidence available. The monitoring systems were used to identify those cases. As of May 4, there were 23 confirmed reports of people developing the condition after receiving the J&J vaccine, and at least three individuals have died. More than 8.4 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered.

Federal officials on April 13 recommended a brief pause on the J&J vaccine while the issue was investigated and, 10 days later, lifted the pause — saying that the “known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks.” Both the FDA and CDC now include warnings about the rare risk. The CDC says that “[w]omen younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event” with the J&J vaccine, and that other COVID-19 vaccines are “available for which this risk has not been seen.”

So health officials do probe reports of adverse events that follow vaccinations, including deaths, contrary to the tweet’s suggestion.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.


CDC Recommends Use of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Resume.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated 30 Apr 2021.

COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE).” Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 5 May 2021.

COVID-19 Mortality Overview.” National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 5 May 2021.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 5 May 2021.

Fichera, Angelo. “Flawed Report Fuels Erroneous Claims About COVID-19 Death Toll.” FactCheck.org. 2 Apr 2021.

Guidance for Certifying Deaths Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19).” Vital Statistics Reporting Guidance. National Vital Statistics System. 2 Apr 2020.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “Viral Posts Misuse VAERS Data to Make False Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines.” FactCheck.org. Updated 13 Apr 2021.

Katz, Josh, et al. “574,000 More U.S. Deaths Than Normal Since Covid-19 Struck.” New York Times. Updated 24 Mar 2021.

Medical Examiners’ and Coroners’ Handbook on Death Registration and Fetal Death Reporting.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 2003.

Post-COVID Conditions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 8 Apr 2021.

Robertson, Lori and Eugene Kiely. “Q&A on the Rare Clotting Events That Caused the J&J Pause.” FactCheck.org. Updated 30 Apr 2021.

Tracking COVID-19: U.S. Public Health Surveillance and Data.” Congressional Research Service. 2 Nov 2020.

Understanding Death Data Quality: Cause of Death from Death Certificates.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 1 Apr 2020.

Woolf, Steven H., et al. “Excess Deaths From COVID-19 and Other Causes in the US, March 1, 2020, to January 2, 2021.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 2 Apr 2021.

The post Viral Post Misleads on COVID-19 Death Reporting, Vaccine Monitoring appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Biden plan could save California high-speed rail — if state leaders can ever unite

Politico -

SAN FRANCISCO — President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan could be a sudden lifeline for California's vexing high-speed rail project — if the state can get its own house in order.

Biden has given California high-speed rail leaders new hope with his trillion-dollar infusion for infrastructure and a focus on climate change and jobs. That's a marked reversal from former President Donald Trump's attempts to withdraw federal dollars from the project envisioned to run from the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California.

Yet a partisan split in the Central Valley and a dissatisfied group of powerful Los Angeles Democrats could discourage the Biden administration from investing political capital on California's system. Its high costs and political messiness were enough to discourage a House Transportation rail subcommittee from inviting California officials to a high-speed rail hearing this week in a glaring omission.

"Nobody's going to want to jump in the middle of that fight," said Dan Richard, a former board chair of the high-speed rail authority, urging state leaders to resolve their differences before they lobby Washington.

California's ultimate ambitions are to deliver rail passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours. Amtrak runs trains between the Bay Area and Southern California, but scheduled routes can take anywhere from nine to 12 hours and may involve a bus transfer — making them impractical for anybody without a leisurely schedule.

The state has long dreamt about a north-south train of the sort pioneered by Europe and Japan, and voters in 2008 were sold on that vision when they approved $10 billion for the project in 2008. While California has an abundance of cheap flights that connect most points in roughly an hour, state leaders have portrayed high-speed rail as an environmentally friendly alternative that avoids the hassles of navigating airports or roadways.

But as high-speed rail costs have risen and momentum has waned, state and local officials have lost faith that the project will ever come to full fruition, and many have shifted to looking out for their own communities. Even the ambitious Gov. Gavin Newsom doused hopes in his first State of the State speech in 2019 when he said there "isn't a path" to complete the full line — a stance that further fueled Washington skepticism about the project.

For now, the state plans to complete just 171 miles of track between two smaller Central Valley towns over the next nine years — a far cry from the 525 miles for the full line that voters once committed to.

Project officials know this is their moment to strike in Washington. Brian Kelly, CEO of the High-Speed Rail Authority, estimates that California's project could vie for some $70 billion in federal funding between Biden's proposed pots of money for intercity rail, "transformative" infrastructure projects and other types of competitive grants for transportation.

"I see tens of billions that are in this program that we can compete for, and candidly we're going to compete for," Kelly said.

The in-state tensions are the result of steadily rising costs, limited funding and decisions based on topography, economics and politics.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown chose to start construction in the Central Valley in order to stanch the region's economic bleeding during the Great Recession. It was also the easiest place to begin construction, with lower property values and less development, and it didn't require immediately tunneling through either of the mountain ranges that frame the valley: the Tehachapis to the south and the Pacheco Pass, which separates the Central Valley from Silicon Valley, to the north.

State lawmakers fear that high-speed rail will never have enough money to fulfill the original San Francisco-to-Los Angeles vision. The price tag more than doubled from $33 billion in 2008 to $68 billion in 2012 — and is roughly $80 billion to $100 billion now.

Between the $10 billion bond, existing federal funds and an annual flow of about $500 million from the state's cap-and-trade auction, California projects it has just enough funding to complete the 171-mile segment, at around $23 billion.

That sense of financial scarcity has prompted some to try to redirect some of the money toward regional rail in Southern California and the Bay Area. Officials plan to ask state lawmakers this month for the rest of the bond money to finish the project's first usable segment in the Central Valley. Approving that request will commit the state to the Central Valley, without a guarantee that there will be funding for the rest of the system.

"It would be hard to expect an all-out federal grant that would get us through the Pacheco tunnels, and certainly not through the Tehachapis," said Lou Thompson, a longtime rail consultant who chairs a Legislature-established peer review group examining the project. "One way or another, you have to come up with a new state matching program or you have to say, 'This still won't get us there.'"

Los Angeles lawmakers, who now control both the Senate and Assembly transportation committees, aren't quite ready to commit. They argue that more of the early spending should go toward the state's big population centers and local rail systems that will eventually link to the high-speed line. They say that by focusing on the Central Valley, the state is sapping the political appetite to support funding for the overall project.

"How do we do a project in such a way that we have the political will to finish it? Because it's going to take a lot of money," said Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale). "We need to have a conversation about the next tranche of money and how we actually do all these things and what is the order by which we do it."

The more conservative Central Valley is also far from unified even though the project has created several thousand union jobs there. Despite bipartisan support in 2008, high-speed rail became a political football for Republicans after former President Barack Obama embraced it in his economic stimulus package. Trump stoked divisions when he seized on Newsom's retrenchment and attempted to withdraw nearly $1 billion of the $3.5 billion that it received under Obama. Central Valley Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who supported the project as a state lawmaker, are now diehard opponents.

“California Democrats and the Biden administration are fixated on a failed project that is saddling billions of dollars of debt on hardworking Californians," McCarthy said in a statement. "California High Speed Rail represents everything that is wrong with Democrat priorities that cost too much and deliver so little."

At the least, Biden's win has helped spare the project from Trump funding cuts. The new administration is expected to restore the federal funding that Trump moved to withdraw and is likely to extend a deadline to complete a usable segment by 2022.

But Biden officials have been holding the project at a rhetorical arm's length when it comes to new funding, careful to speak only in general support of high-speed rail nationally. Kelly wasn't invited to testify at this week's House hearing on high-speed rail, despite being in charge of the only publicly funded high-speed project in the country that's actually under construction.

"It's been something that President Biden is very familiar with and Secretary Buttigieg is also quite interested in, but whether it will be the cavalry coming in over the hill to rescue the California high-speed rail project is another question entirely," Thompson said. "If there is any support for high-speed rail, I'm sure California will have a solid claim on a share of it, but what that share might be and what it would be a share of, I don't think anybody knows right now."

State lawmakers hold the purse strings on the remaining $4.2 billion in state bond money, which Newsom plans to ask them to approve in next month's budget negotiations, according to the High-Speed Rail Authority's latest business plan. It's their big opportunity to shift funding from the Central Valley to the "bookends," similar to what happened in 2012 when Brown agreed to spend $1.1 billion of high-speed rail money on electrifying a commuter line in the Bay Area, remodeling Los Angeles' Union Station and elevating a segment of railroad in Los Angeles to reduce traffic.

"What is going on now with some members of the Legislature I think is old-fashioned leverage," said Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat who has sponsored a bill (H.R. 867 (117)) that would authorize $8 billion annually for high-speed rail through 2025. "What's taking place in terms of the debate among some of the Southern California folks is really they don't see the immediate benefit to them at this point of high-speed rail, and they see money at the state level and the federal level and so they want to get money now."

Costa also wants to create an annual high-speed rail authorization similar to roads, ports, harbors and other transportation infrastructure.

Friedman said she'd like federal funding for Los Angeles rail projects ahead of the Olympics in 2028. "I would love to see the Biden administration help us complete our rail goals in Los Angeles with an eye toward the Olympics," she said. "I think we should at least have a discussion about the best way to complete the project, and it could be that the Biden infrastructure package helps make up our mind," she said.

The influx of federal funding could smooth over short-term conflicts. But whatever lump sum the project might win wouldn't likely be enough to get it through mountains that divide the Central Valley from Los Angeles and the Bay Area. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo estimated getting through Pacheco Pass would take most of Biden's $20 billion for intercity rail. "We need to connect the affordable housing in the Central Valley to all the jobs in Silicon Valley, and to do that it's going to take about $13-14 billion," he said last week.

More realistically, federal funding could help the project finish the initial Central Valley segment and complete environmental permitting along the entire route from San Francisco to Anaheim by mid-2023, which might get it to a place where private investors would be interested. But the state still projects that Central Valley service will require an operating subsidy of about $50 million per year, and the legislative analyst has warned that subsidizing service could violate the terms of the 2008 bond.

"The project is so complex, it's a political Rubik's cube," said Martha Escutia, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Los Angeles who sits on the rail authority's board. "All the pieces are twisting and turning, and it'll take a while before you get it all bingo, wham."

Twitter boots account mimicking Trump’s new blog

Politico -

Twitter has suspended an account replicating posts from former President Donald Trump’s new blog, saying it violated the company’s rules against ban evasion.

Why it's a big deal: The incident shows that even after Trump's suspension, Twitter is still having to make calls about his postings in other ways.

Fake Trump gets the boot: The account profile for @DJTDesk — an abbreviation for the former president’s new “From The Desk of Donald J. Trump” web page — was taken down after tweeting posts identical to his messages on the blog, according to screenshots tweeted by NBC News and other users. The account featured branding identical to Trump's website, including the same profile picture and banner, according to the images.

Twitter and other social media platforms largely prohibit users from trying to circumvent bans by setting up alternative accounts for suspended individuals.

“As stated in our ban evasion policy, we’ll take enforcement action on accounts whose apparent intent is to replace or promote content affiliated with a suspended account,” Twitter said in a statement Thursday regarding the account.

It was not immediately clear if the account was officially linked to the former president’s team or his Save America coalition, which funds the blog. Twitter declined comment on the matter.

How we got here: Trump unveiled a new blog Tuesday that provided links for users to share his latest statements directly on Twitter, where he’s permanently banned, and Facebook, where he’s indefinitely suspended.

A Twitter spokesperson told POLITICO earlier this week that while users are generally permitted to share posts from Trump’s site onto its platform, they could still face enforcement action from the company if the posts break any of Twitter’s rules.

And accounts could face restrictions if they try to imitate Trump's banned account and their sole intent is to replace a suspended account, the spokesperson said.

Not their first go-around: After Trump’s prolific personal Twitter account @realDonaldTrump was permanently suspended by Twitter on Jan. 8, his aides sought to circumvent the ban by posting messages identical to his tweets on his campaign account and the official White House account. Twitter responded by permanently suspending the Trump campaign account and removing the White House tweets.

New Jerseyans still giving Murphy high marks for his handling of the pandemic, poll finds

Politico -

Two-thirds of New Jerseyans say Gov. Phil Murphy is doing a good job handling the coronavirus outbreak, and nearly as many say the restrictions he‘s imposed to slow the spread of Covid-19 have been appropriate, according to a Monmouth University poll released Thursday.

While the 66 percent who approve of Murphy’s handling of the outbreak may be a strong number, it’s down significantly from the 79 percent who said the same thing a year ago, just after New Jersey suffered the worst of the pandemic. At the same time, 27 percent of those surveyed said Murphy has done a bad job dealing with the pandemic.

Murphy, a progressive Democrat, is up for reelection in November. Other results released Wednesday from the same poll showed his general approval rating at 57 percent. Other than California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s facing a recall, Murphy is the only incumbent governor on the ballot this year.

Although New Jersey has the highest coronavirus death rate in the country — much of it from early in the pandemic — 53 percent of those surveyed think the state is doing better than others in dealing with coronavirus, while 23 percent say it’s doing worse and 23 percent say it’s doing about the same.

The poll also found that majorities of New Jerseyans support the easing restrictions placed on businesses and support opening schools for full-time in-person instruction in the fall. New Jersey residents are also less likely to refuse to get the Covid-19 vaccine than the nation as a whole, according to the poll.

Overall, 58 percent of New Jersey residents say the measures Murphy took to slow the spread of coronavirus have been appropriate, while 27 percent say they went too far and 14 percent say they didn’t go far enough. Seventy-three percent said they support earlier-announced plans to loosen restrictions on outdoor gatherings while 60 percent felt the same regarding indoor gatherings.

The poll was conducted largely before Murphy announced earlier this week that he would lift indoor capacity limits for restaurants, gyms, businesses and churches, though still require social distancing.

Republicans have been critical of Murphy in recent months, arguing he has been slow to ease restrictions on businesses and schools and have gone after him over deaths in long-term care facilities.

On other issues, 63 percent of residents surveyed reported receiving at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while 7 percent said they hope to get one soon. Fourteen percent said they want to “see how it goes” before getting the vaccine and 14 percent said they “likely will never get a vaccine.”

A Monmouth University survey from last month found 21 percent of the nation’s residents outright opposed vaccines.

Thus far, nearly 7.3 million vaccines have been administered in New Jersey and more than 3.2 million residents have been fully vaccinated. Murphy has said he wants 4.7 million people, or 70 percent of the state’s eligible population, fully vaccinated by the end of June.

The New Jersey survey did not find a significant difference in vaccine hesitancy between white residents and those from minority backgrounds, but 66 percent of whites reported getting the vaccine compared to 58 percent of people of color, suggesting a discrepancy based on access instead of attitudes.

“Looking at the differences in attitudes among New Jersey’s diverse communities, we may need to focus more on access than opposition to explain the varying vaccination rates,” Monmouth University Poll Director Patrick Murray said in a statement that accompanied the survey results.

According to the poll, 79 percent of New Jerseyans are either somewhat or very satisfied with the way the vaccine has been rolled out. At the same time, 52 percent say the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not made them less comfortable about getting inoculated while 32 percent said it made them less comfortable about that specific vaccine. Just 14 percent said the J&J pause has made them less comfortable with all of the Covid-19 vaccines.

Despite the general acceptance of the vaccine, 65 percent of the parents surveyed said they would oppose requiring it for children to attend school if the vaccine is approved for them. New Jerseyans as a whole, however, narrowly favor requiring vaccines for schoolchildren, 50 percent to 46 percent.

Fifty-three percent of residents and 57 percent of parents of children under 18 say school should be fully in-person in the fall, while 33 percent and 37 percent, respectively, want schools to operate with a hybrid model. Just 7 percent of residents and 9 percent of parents want schools to operate remote-only. Fewer than 20 New Jersey school districts are still offering remote-only learning.

The Monmouth University Polling Institute surveyed 706 New Jersey adults by telephone from April 29 to May 4. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Stefanik bashes Twitter after aide’s account suspended in ‘error’

Politico -

Rep. Elise Stefanik blasted Twitter on Thursday after the platform briefly suspended the account of one of her aides, a move a company spokesperson later said was an error the site has since reversed.

Stefanik (R-N.Y.) used her campaign Twitter account to rail against the suspension of Karoline Leavitt, her communications director in the House, calling it an “unconstitutional overreach SILENCING our voices and freedom of speech.”

A couple of hours later, a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that the “account was suspended in error.” It was not immediately clear how long the aide’s account had been suspended.

“This has been reversed, and the account has been reinstated. The account's followers will take 24-48 hours to fully restore,” the spokesperson said.

The company did not elaborate on what prompted the initial suspension and declined to comment on Stefanik’s remarks. After being reinstated, Leavitt called the brief suspension "another purge in their ongoing effort to silence conservatives voices!"

Stefanik also rejected Twitter’s explanation for the suspension during an appearance on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast later Thursday morning. “They said it was a mistake, but again, it only happens to conservatives,” she said.

The action by Twitter, Stefanik added, “is a reason why we need to break up big tech” and repeal Section 230, the 1996 law which offers legal immunity to a wide range of online companies.

A timely attack against tech: The dust-up arrives as Stefanik is making a play to move up the leadership ranks in the House GOP, at a time when its leaders are rallying around former President Donald Trump’s attacks on Silicon Valley over allegations its companies are biased against conservatives.

And it comes a day after Republicans hammered Facebook’s oversight board for upholding Trump’s suspension from that platform, a move that could galvanize the party as it looks to retake control of Congress in 2022.

Stefanik has emerged as a likely successor to Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming as the No. 3 House Republican. Cheney has faced broadsides from Trump and other Republican officials since voting to impeach Trump in the wake of the deadly attack on the Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6.

Quint Forgey contributed to this report.

DeSantis gives Fox 'exclusive' of him signing election bill

Politico -

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, continuing his ongoing feud with most of the “corporate media,” on Thursday signed into law a contentious election bill during an event where only Fox News was allowed to observe.

DeSantis’s decision to sign the measure, which puts in restrictions on mail-in ballot collections and the use of drop boxes, was already well-known ahead of time. Over the last several days, the Republican governor publicly touted the measure, which the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature approved by a largely party line vote last week.

Before DeSantis approved the legislation, his staff barred other reporters from attending the West Palm Beach event that also included some of the legislators who backed the bill as well as political supporters.

One reporter, Steve Bousquet with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, tweeted that DeSantis’s newly-installed communications director, Taryn Fenske, told him that the signing was a “Fox exclusive.” Other news outlets also complained about being blocked from observing the bill signing.

DeSantis — and previous governors before him — often hold closed-door bill signings, but not as an exclusive news event for one media outlet. The decision to invite only Fox News comes as DeSantis — an ally of former President Donald Trump — continues to advance a combative strategy with the media. He recently held press conferences where he lashed out at 60 Minutes over a story it did on Florida vaccine distribution, and he frequently spars with reporters at news conferences.

“This keeps us ahead of the curve,” DeSantis said after signing the bill during a seven-minute segment on Fox & Friends. He contended that signing the bill meant that “your vote will be cast with integrity and transparency.”

DeSantis also said the new law would prohibit the mass mailing of mail-in ballots even though that was already illegal before legislators took action.

DeSantis, after he signed the bill, was caught by local television reporters outside the hotel where it took place. "It was on national TV, it wasn't secret," he said when pressed about the decision to bar other media.

Democrats reacted sharply to both the bill signing and the governor’s decision to bar other news media from observing it.

“This is the difference between @GovRonDeSantis and me,” Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor said on Twitter. “He locks out the public and caters to FOX News. When I was Governor, everyone was invited in — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. And when I'm Governor again, this will be a Florida for all.”

Within minutes of the bill signing, an alliance of voting rights and civil rights groups announced they had filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee to block the new law. Shortly after that, the NAACP Legal and Defense Fund filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Florida NAACP, Disability Rights Florida and Common Cause.

The League of Women Voters of Floridan along with Black Voters Matter Fund, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans and a handful of voters filed a lawsuit that contends the newly-enacted legislation impedes “every step of the voting process in Florida.”

“The legislation has a deliberate and disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color,” said Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “It’s a despicable attempt by a one party ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot. It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional, and un-American.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is expected to challenge DeSantis in 2022, said at a press conference Thursday that she was directing her department's lawyers to file an amicus brief in the League of Women Voters lawsuit.

Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said she had only read part of the lawsuit, but said she has no doubt "there is merit behind it, this will be deemed an unconstitutional bill and a complete infringement upon people's rights."

Florida’s elections in 2020 went relative smoothly and DeSantis himself boasted about that the state had finally “vanquished the ghost” of the 2000 presidential election recount that subjected the state to international ridicule. But then the governor in late February called for many of the changes that are outlined in the bill he signed.

One of the most significant changes in the law would place a two-ballot limit on how many mail-in ballots someone could gather and turn in on behalf of the elderly or sick and disabled voters. There is an exception for immediate family members, but some Democrats predicted this would lead to older voters being less able to participate.

The measure would impose new restrictions on when drop boxes could be used and would bar outside groups from giving out grants to help local and state election officials administer elections. This was done as a response to a Chicago-based non-profit handing out millions in aid ahead of the 2020 elections. Most of the money from that non-profit came from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Despite the avalanche of criticism from Democrats and critical international coverage of Florida’s legislation as “Jim Crow 2.0,” Florida remains one of the easiest states for a registered voter in which to cast ballots. In addition to Election Day, voters have about a month to cast vote-by-mail ballots or they can cast ballots in-person for at least eight days in all counties — and for as many as 14 days in counties that elect to do so, mainly in large urban areas where Democrats congregate.

Still, the pressure for the election changes and restrictions was premised on Trump’s baseless claim that widespread and systemic voter fraud cost him his reelection. Trump carried his newly adopted home state by a bigger margin in 2020 than former President Barack Obama did in 2008.

Bruce Ritchie contributed to this report.

Pfizer, BioNTech agree to send doses to vaccinate Olympic delegations

Politico -

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have hatched an agreement with the Olympics’ governing body to help vaccinate participants in the Tokyo games set for July.

Under the deal between the companies and the International Olympics Committee, they agreed to donate additional vaccine doses to ensure that those going to the games have access to them. Those shots will be separate from contracts already in place to secure doses for a country’s general populace and will be determined in coordination with individual countries’ Olympics organizations.

“We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a release on Thursday. “By taking the vaccine, they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration of the wellbeing of others in their communities.”

Pfizer and BioNTech said the side deal will not meaningfully affect the global supply of its vaccine doses, but did not indicate how many doses they expect to send out as part of this agreement.

The IOC has previously said it will not mandate vaccinations to participate in this year’s Olympics, which combined with limited supply across much of the globe — particularly in less affluent countries — has raised concerns about the safety of the international athletic showcase.

The size of a country’s representation at the Olympics and Paralympics varies widely, sometimes from a single competitor to several hundred athletes in the case of large, wealthy countries like the United States. Each country typically sends along coaches, athletic trainers and others as part of their delegations.

This summer’s games, which were postponed from last year due to the pandemic, is expected to be a comparatively slimmed-down affair with the opening ceremony scheduled for July 23. (A handful of events are set to be held in the days prior to that.)

That leaves a relatively narrow window to get countries’ Olympics delegations fully vaccinated within the two-dose schedule needed for Pfizer and BioNTech’s product, which includes three weeks between the first and second shot and two weeks to reach full immunity.

The companies plan to send out the first doses under the agreement at the end of the month “to ensure participating delegations receive second doses ahead of arrivals in Tokyo,” according to the news release.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the games are “a monumental moment of world unity and peace after a grueling year of isolation and devastation.”

The agreement comes less than a day after the Biden administration said it supports waiving patent protections for the Covid-19 vaccines as a way to expand worldwide production — a significant blow to drugmakers who have staunchly resisted encroachments on their lucrative intellectual property.


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