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'I can’t believe we’re talking about polio in 2023’

Politico -

This is the second story of a five-part series","_id":"0000018a-a8cc-dee9-adca-ebfea87c0000","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">a five-part series diving into the rise of the anti-vaccine political movement.

The Covid-19 pandemic eroded trust in science. The 2024 election, public health officials fear, may make it worse.

A handful of presidential candidates from both parties are leaning into a growing movement that marries traditional vaccine skepticism with a broader distrust of big institutions — be they the government, the pharmaceutical industry or the scientific establishment.

It’s a movement organized in only the loosest of terms. It’s anti-vaccine and anti-science. It’s pro-medical freedom and pro-alternative medicine. But growth in the movement’s ranks has many in and out of government fearful that this campaign cycle will accelerate its spread, consolidate its strength and cement its place in the political milieu.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. surgeon general during the Trump administration. “Many of us in public health are deeply concerned that distrust in government and health entities, and a political campaign in which candidates are openly and vigorously arguing that people should ignore the advice of health experts, could have detrimental impacts for years to come — no matter who wins."

Former President Donald Trump's administration marshaled unprecedented federal resources to develop and promote a Covid vaccine in record time. But within a few weeks of its arrival, lingering resentment over lockdowns and mistrust of government led to a widespread backlash, particularly among conservatives, that persists almost three years later. Nearly four in 10 Republicans say they will “definitely” or “probably” get the new vaccine, according to polling conducted by Morning Consult and POLITICO, while nearly eight in 10 Democrats expect to seek out the updated shot.

That skepticism is bleeding over into other vaccines, like those that prevent measles, mumps and rubella. Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state’s secretary of health, said it may even take the death of an influential figure to a vaccine-preventable disease to shock the public back to wider acceptance of immunizations.

“I’m really concerned, and a lot of people in public health and health care are very concerned, that this is the beginning of a really rough and tough time,” Shah said. “Unfortunately, people are going to get sick. We’re going to lose lives.”

For decades, being openly skeptical of vaccines made one a pariah in all but the smallest of political circles. Both parties generally accepted that modern science had made essential breakthroughs in health care. To cast doubt on them placed you on the fringe. But public health officials fear those days are increasingly numbered.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who notched 15 percent support in a Harvard-Harris poll of the Democratic presidential primary field earlier this month, is running on his anti-vaccine bona fides. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is campaigning on his work to promote “medical freedom” and has said he would put Kennedy on a task force to investigate government overreach in medicine if elected president. Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur also running for the Republican nomination, has touted his plans to “expose and ultimately gut” the FDA and floated Kennedy as a running mate.

While these candidates are trailing in the polls, their followings are certain to outlast the campaign. Lingering resentment over pandemic restrictions is fueling further skepticism around public health, potentially leading to even lower vaccination rates, wider spread of disease and an inability to address future pandemics.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died in this pandemic because of the bad information about vaccines and treatments,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health and former White House Covid-19 response coordinator under the Biden administration. “I certainly am worried about what happens over the next three to five years.”

The data show the vast majority of Americans still trust science, listen to doctors and vaccinate their children. But the growing number of those who don’t threatens to undo generations of work combatting deadly and debilitating diseases that haven’t widely circulated for decades.

Resistance to the Covid-19 vaccine has already spilled over to routine childhood immunizations. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year show that vaccination rates for kindergarteners dropped for the second consecutive year.

The skipped shots protect against a wide array of diseases including measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliovirus and varicella. Together, the CDC estimates childhood vaccines prevent 4 million deaths worldwide every year.

Declining vaccination rates mean these diseases could start to circulate more widely and, with them, vaccine-preventable deaths. In 2019, there were more than 1,200 cases of measles across 31 states, the largest outbreak in the U.S. since 1992.

More recently, an Ohio outbreak that began last November sickened 85 children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years. None of the children were fully vaccinated, and nearly half were hospitalized.

Health officials in Kentucky and New York have recently identified whooping cough cases. And in New York, a young adult was diagnosed with paralytic polio last fall, and wastewater testing confirmed sustained community transmission of the virus.

“What I worry about is are we going to see the reemergence of diseases we haven’t seen in a long time?” Jha said. “I look at this and I think, ‘I can’t believe we’re talking about polio in 2023.’”

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that parents with children under the age of 18 were less likely to believe the benefits of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine outweighed the risks and that the shots had high preventative health benefits. They were more likely to believe in a greater risk of side effects than their counterparts without children. Mothers were significantly more worried about the risks than fathers.

And trust in science is the lowest it has been in years. Only 39 percent of Americans reported a “great deal” of confidence in the scientific community in 2022, down 9 percent from the previous year after remaining steady for the last two decades, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

“I wish I was more optimistic about this,” said Rupali Limaye, deputy director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The way that this has been messaged is, ‘If you believe in science, and if you believe in all these things that could infringe on my rights, you’re woke.’”

The problem is clear to public health experts. The solutions are less so, particularly because those best equipped to combat health-related misinformation — doctors and scientists — are the very people the skeptics are least inclined to trust. It’s a quandary especially for those in government, who want to act but understand their involvement could deepen the mistrust they’re trying to combat.

“I may be a trusted messenger for, hopefully, a large segment of the population,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state health officer. “I am not the trusted messenger for everyone.”

In lieu of being out front on the issue, public health officials have been turning to the community leaders who helped them spread the word about the Covid-19 vaccine. That includes leaning on respected conservative officials and pastors to be their ambassadors. They’re looking to expand peer-based education, such as training parents and teachers to spread the word on public health. And they want to improve scientific literacy in the U.S. as a whole.

While the anti-vaccine movement has historically found a home among both libertarians and the far-left, recent data is clear that mistrust in vaccines and science in general is significantly higher among Republicans than Democrats. The AP-NORC data show that 22 percent of Republicans have a great deal of trust in the scientific community compared with 53 percent of Democrats.

But Adams noted the role Kennedy, a Democrat, is having in the discussion — and said the left-versus-right discussion is unhelpful.

“The partisan framing drives many of the very people we're trying to engage right into the arms of nefarious actors,” Adams said.

Kennedy’s campaign, in an email, blamed the involvement of business in science and medicine for the growing levels of mistrust and said it was the media, not Kennedy, making vaccines a campaign issue.

“The reason the public has lost trust in science and medicine is that all too often, their trust has been betrayed due to corporate influence over academic research and government agencies,” the campaign said.

Officials worry that social media may spread rhetoric from the most vocal and the most skeptical, resulting in other Americans delaying or skipping vaccinations, not because they’re opposed, but because they don’t know who to trust. A recent KFF poll found that 96 percent of U.S. adults had heard at least one of 10 specific pieces of health-related misinformation, and that while fewer than one in five said the claims were “definitely true,” anywhere from half to three-quarters of people were uncertain whether the claims were true or false.

“It makes it really hard for everyday Americans to know, ‘What should I do for my family? What do I do for my kids? Do I get vaccinated? Do I not get vaccinated?’” Shah said. “People start to wonder, and if you have enough people wonder, what happens is they may hesitate.”

Top GOP senator teams up with key Dem on ‘light-touch’ AI bill

Politico -

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) is teaming up with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on legislation that would require companies to assess the impact of artificial intelligence systems and self-certify the safety of systems seen as particularly risky.

Thune expects to introduce the bill as soon as this week — and the Senate’s No. 2 Republican said his legislation will run counter to the “heavy-handed” approach to AI that he expects Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will ultimately endorse.

“I think it’ll be a bill that will be a good marker out there and be unlike some of the more heavy-handed regulatory approaches I suspect will be suggested by Sen. Schumer and others who have designs on this issue,” Thune told POLITICO on Wednesday.

Schumer spokesperson Allison Biasotti said the majority leader "does not view AI reforms as a partisan issue and believes the only way to fully harness its potential for good and limit its risks is through bipartisan action."

Schumer has spent months examining the possibility of new AI rules, although it remains unclear how the majority leader plans to legislate. Last week Schumer kicked off the first in a series of “AI Insight Forums,” where tech leaders spoke to lawmakers behind closed doors. But some senators are growing impatient at the lengthy listening process — and on Wednesday, Klobuchar said that Congress “just can’t wait” to set guidelines for the AI systems used to set credit ratings and otherwise impact people’s lives.

“It's really important that we have standards in place, and I appreciate Sen. Thune’s leadership on this,” Klobuchar told POLITICO. The Democratic senator is already the lead sponsor of a bill that would prevent deceptive AI-generated content from impacting elections.

Although not yet officially introduced, Thune’s bill has already picked up some powerful backers. Ryan Hagemann, AI policy executive at IBM, called it “the most comprehensive piece of legislation that is out there right now.” Hagemann told POLITICO that the bill “strikes a very moderate balance” between a hands-off approach to AI and early efforts to clamp down on the technology through licensing regimes or other restrictions.

In conversations with POLITICO this week, Thune repeatedly emphasized that his bill would take a “light-touch” approach to AI governance. While the Commerce Department would be tasked with enforcing the legislation, companies developing or deploying AI systems would ultimately be responsible for assessing their impact and certifying their safety.

“What we're trying to do is mitigate against the riskiest applications of AI,” Thune told POLITICO on Wednesday. “There are mechanisms in there, in addition to self-certification, that I think create the safeguards — but without having the heavy hand of regulation that we think could be harmful.”

Thune and Klobuchar said their AI bill is likely to pick up a couple more Senate cosponsors ahead of its official introduction, which they expect either this week or next.

Ken Paxton suggests he could primary Sen. John Cornyn in 2026

Politico -

Fresh off a high-profile impeachment acquittal, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested in his clearest terms yet that he could launch a primary challenge against Sen. John Cornyn, who is up for reelection in 2026.

"To me, he's been in Washington too long. He's been there, what, for 14 years or so? And I can't think of a single thing he's accomplished for our state or even for the country," Paxton told Tucker Carlson in an interview that debuted Wednesday. (Cornyn was elected to the Senate in 2002.)

"Everything's on the table for me," Paxton said in response to Carlson asking if he would run. "I think it's time somebody needs to step up and run against this guy that will do the job and do it the right way and represent us and worry about what's going on."

A potential battle between the two Texans would highlight the deep divide in the biggest state Republican Party in the country. And the animosity between the pair is well-documented: When Paxton battled through Republican primary challengers during his 2022 reelection campaign, Cornyn — a former Texas attorney general himself — called his legal battles an "embarrassment" and further reiterated those comments during Paxton's impeachment trial this month. Paxton, in turn, has called the senator a relic of former President George W. Bush, who helped turn the state's Republican Party into a machine.

Both have large political profiles in Texas. Paxton, who has the fierce backing of Donald Trump and many of the former president's conservative allies, has prominently attacked many of the Biden administration's policies in court, ranging from immigration to federal spending. Cornyn, who has held a number of leadership positions in the upper chamber, is often cited as a potential successor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This year, Paxton faced the biggest threat to his political career so far after the Texas House overwhelmingly voted to remove him from office in May over allegations that he misused his office and accepted bribes. But the Texas Senate acquitted him this month, allowing him to return to his perch as the state's top legal official. He still faces a felony fraud case and a federal investigation.

The Voters Still Ridin' With Biden in Georgia

Real Clear Politics -

Older, greyer and slower than he used to be, President Joe Biden has said American voters don't need to choose between him and the Almighty in the 2024 presidential contest. They just need to decide between him and the Alternative, meaning former President Donald Trump.

Fetterman Degrades the Institution of the Senate

Real Clear Politics -

BRADDOCK, Pa. - Four days after Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) tweeted he was driving to Michigan to join the United Auto Workers on the picket line, and two days after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) eased the Senate's dress code so the junior senator from Pennsylvania could wear the gym...

Biden administration expands legal status and work permits to thousands of Venezuelan migrants

Politico -

NEW YORK — The Biden administration on Wednesday expanded temporary protected status for Venezuela, making close to 500,000 newcomers freshly eligible to apply for work permits.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas extended and redesigned Venezuela for TPS for 18 months, following a review of country conditions, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

About 472,000 individuals are newly eligible and will able to apply for TPS, as well as get work papers, the official said.

The move has been urged by local leaders across the country as a way to make the migrants eligible to legally work. In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have been pressing the White House to expand the status to migrants who came to the state from troubled countries.

The New York Immigration Coalition estimated the change will impact about 60,000 Venezuelans in New York who can now "quickly acquire work authorizations and immediately start contributing to our local economy and communities."

“After my productive conversation with President Biden last night, I’m grateful the federal government has acted so speedily to grant one of our top priorities: providing temporary protected status to Venezuelan asylum-seekers and migrants who have already arrived in this country," Hochul said in a statement after meeting with Biden on Tuesday at a Manhattan reception during the United Nations General Assembly.

Business groups and immigration advocates have joined state and city officials to demand that Biden expand TPS, saying that getting migrants to work would allow them to move out of shelters and start their lives anew.

With the number of migrants in the New York City’s care at 60,000, Hochul and Adams have said migrants are eager to get to work and can fill job vacancies in industries such as health care and construction.

The designation announced Wednesday will apply to those in the United States on or before July 31.

It was long and loudly urged by members of Congress, too.

Adams said he's been calling for the change since April, saying he personally spoke with the White House on Wednesday night to learn about the announcement — despite not meeting with Biden in the city because of his criticism of the federal response.

“I am hopeful that we can continue to partner with President Biden to extend temporary protected status to the tens of thousands of other migrants in our care from other countries," Adams said in a statement.

TPS is reserved for individuals who cannot return safely to their home country for fear of armed conflict, natural disasters or other extraordinary conditions.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both New York Democrats, said the decision will aid New York's strained system, which has been overwhelmed by the surge of more than 100,000 migrants and has led to tent shelters across the city.

"As a result of this decision, immigrants will be temporarily allowed to work, fill needed jobs and support their families while awaiting an asylum determination," the leaders said in a joint statement.

While Biden can expand TPS unilaterally, another senior administration official on Wednesday stressed that the power to further ease the immigration crisis lays with Congress.

“We are working under the constraints of our fundamentally broken statutory framework that is just inadequate to face the challenges that we are seeing on the border today,” the official said.

Biden officials on Wednesday also announced efforts to accelerate the processing of employment authorization documents, or EADs, for those paroled into the United States after a CBP One app appointment.

Former White House aide claims Giuliani groped her on Jan. 6, according to book

Politico -

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson writes in an upcoming memoir that Rudy Giuliani groped her backstage while former President Donald Trump rallied supporters to push back against the election certification on Jan. 6, 2021.

A spokesperson for the former New York City mayor vehemently pushed back Wednesday after the allegations surfaced, first published in a report from The Guardian.

Ted Goodman, a spokesperson for Giuliani, called Hutchinson’s words a “disgusting lie.”

“It's fair to ask Cassidy Hutchinson why she is just now coming out with these allegations from two and a half years ago, as part of the marketing campaign for her upcoming book release,” Goodman said in a statement.

Hutchinson's book, titled "Enough," is set for release next Tuesday.

“I feel his frozen fingers trail up my thigh,” Hutchinson wrote, according to The Guardian. “I fight against the tension in my muscles and recoil from Rudy’s grip.”

She additionally wrote that attorney John Eastman, who like Giuliani worked with Trump in attempts to overturn the election, observed the incident and flashed “a leering grin.”

Hutchinson worked for Republicans around Washington before ending up as an aide to Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff. During the House Select Committee on Jan. 6’s investigation into the Capitol riot, she gave several depositions to members before giving a stunning public testimony that rocketed her into the public political spotlight.

The groping allegation adds to the troubles that Giuliani has faced linked to his service to Trump, including, most recently, a $1.36 million lawsuit from his former lawyers who said he did not pay up for their services. He faces criminal charges in a Georgia case that he helped assist Trump in a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election results in the state, and in August was deemed liable for defaming a pair of Georgia election workers. He may also be disbarred in D.C., after New York state revoked his law license in 2021.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

DeSantis ‘on life support’ in N.H., plummets in new poll

Politico -

Ron DeSantis is in freefall in New Hampshire.

The Florida GOP governor, who once polled ahead of former President Donald Trump in the first primary state, has now fallen solidly back into the pack, competing in a crowded race with biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for second place in a new survey.

Support for DeSantis cratered to 10 percent in the CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released Wednesday, his worst showing in a public poll of Granite Staters yet, according to the list compiled by polling aggregator Real Clear Politics. He’s down 32 points from the January UNH survey in which he led Trump 42 percent to 30 percent. He now sits 29 points behind the former president.

“The campaign for Ron DeSantis is on life support,” veteran New Hampshire GOP strategist Mike Dennehy said in response to the poll. “He has one shot at resuscitation and that is the debate next week.”

DeSantis finished fifth in the survey, behind Ramaswamy at 13 percent, Haley at 12 percent and Christie at 11 percent. But because of the poll’s margin of error, the candidates are statistically in a four-way tie for second.

The Florida governor’s sagging poll numbers in New Hampshire come as he hasn’t set foot in the first primary state in a month. As he campaigns in Iowa and fundraises in Texas, he’s been leaving his surrogates and supporters in New Hampshire to pick up his slack.

“He needs to get his ass up to New Hampshire,” said one DeSantis endorser in New Hampshire, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the situation. “This is absolutely ridiculous that he’s not here.”

The bad news for DeSantis isn’t confined to New Hampshire. It’s everywhere. He finished third behind Haley in a new Fox Business poll of her home state of South Carolina. And in another poll released on Wednesday, a Fox Business survey of Iowa caucus-goers, he’s barely ahead of the former U.N. ambassador. Trump is crushing them both, with 46 percent support in each poll.

But his absence from New Hampshire has been especially baffling to supporters and political observers in the state. DeSantis’ next scheduled event in New Hampshire is a mid-October cattle call hosted by the state Republican Party. His campaign said he is planning a broader campaign swing through the state to coincide with the New Hampshire GOP’s “leadership summit.”

“Ron DeSantis has maintained the most aggressive campaign schedule of anyone in the field and we are excited to be returning to New Hampshire soon,” DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo said.

While DeSantis enjoyed high interest among Republican activists before he entered the presidential race, he has since struggled to sell his brand of culture-war conservatism to the broader electorate in New Hampshire, a libertarian-leaning state where independents, who skew more moderate, make up the largest share of voters and are poised to play a major role in next year’s open primary.

The Florida governor stumbled out of the gate in New Hampshire, getting dragged into a tit-for-tat endorsement battle with Trump, declining to take questions from voters — town halls are a campaign-trail staple in the Granite State — and angering a prominent Republican women’s group by counterprogramming a major fundraiser of theirs where Trump was the featured speaker.

DeSantis turned some heads back in his direction with his summer reboot, during which he showed Granite Staters a candidate more willing to take questions and tangle with Trump. But then he stepped off the trail when Hurricane Idalia hit his home state, and hasn’t been back to New Hampshire since.

With neither DeSantis nor Trump around, once-lower-polling candidates — Ramaswamy, Haley, Christie and Scott — have had the state to themselves. Ramaswamy and Haley in particular have worked to capitalize on growing interest in both of their campaigns after the first debate. And it’s starting to pay off for them: While the CNN/UNH poll of 845 likely GOP primary voters conducted Sept. 14 to 18 was among DeSantis’ worst showings yet in public polls of the Granite State, it was Haley’s best, according to RCP. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

DeSantis’ campaigning in New Hampshire “has been spotty at best,” said Matthew Bartlett, a New Hampshire native and GOP strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns and is unaffiliated in this one. “There has not been enough emphasis on holding town hall events, several a day, day after day, where you kick the doors open to the public, clearly and effectively define your vision for the country and then take every question under the sun.”

Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.

Former prosecutor who quit Trump-Russia probe says she left over concerns with Barr

Politico -

HARTFORD, Conn. — A former federal prosecutor who helped investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe said Wednesday she left the team because of concerns with then-Attorney General William Barr’s public comments about the case and because she strongly disagreed with a draft of an interim report he considered releasing before the election.

“I simply couldn’t be part of it. So I resigned,” Nora Dannehy told Connecticut state legislators during her confirmation hearing as a nominee to the state Supreme Court. It marked the first time Dannehy has spoken publicly about her sudden resignation from the probe overseen by former special counsel John Durham.

Durham, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, was appointed in the spring of 2019 by Barr to investigate potential wrongdoing by government officials and others in the early days of the FBI probe into ties between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Trump expected the investigation to expose what he and his supporters alleged was a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine his campaign, but the slow pace of the probe – and the lack of blockbuster findings – contributed to a deep wedge between the president and Barr by the time the attorney general resigned in December 2020.

The investigation concluded last May with underwhelming results: A single guilty plea from a little-known FBI lawyer, resulting in probation, and two acquittals at trial by juries.

Dannehy, who was the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, told Connecticut lawmakers that politics had “never played a role” in how she was expected to carry out her job as a federal prosecutor and “that was the Justice Department I thought I was returning to” when she ultimately joined Durham’s team.

“I had been taught and spent my entire career at Department of Justice conducting any investigation in an objective and apolitical manner,” she said. “In the spring and summer of 2020, I had growing concerns that this Russia investigation was not being conducted in that way. Attorney General Barr began to speak more publicly and specifically about the ongoing criminal investigation. I thought these public comments violated DOJ guidelines.”

Dannehy said Barr’s comments were “certainly taken in a political way by reports. Whether he intended that or not, I don’t know.”

She declined to detail what happened during her time with the investigation because it involved highly classified information.

While Durham’s report did identify significant problems with the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, including major errors and omissions in wiretap applications targeting a former Trump campaign official, many of the findings had already been revealed by the Justice Department inspector general. And though Trump had looked to the report to malign the FBI as prejudiced against him, Durham concluded that the FBI’s mistakes were mostly a result of “confirmation bias” rather than partisanship or outright political bias.

Durham would not answer questions about Dannehy’s resignation during a June appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, saying the issue was not part of the report that he had been summoned to talk about.

Dannehy, a 62-year-old Connecticut native, served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut from 2008 to 2010. She later was appointed deputy attorney general for the state of Connecticut before taking a job with United Technologies Corporation as associate general counsel for global ethics and compliance.

Her nomination cleared the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee by a vote of 30-4 on Wednesday. The full General Assembly is scheduled to vote next week.

Senate confirms Brown to lead Joint Chiefs, blowing past Tuberville’s blockade

Politico -

The Senate overwhelmingly approved Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown to be the military’s top officer Wednesday night, though a months-long blockade by Sen. Tommy Tuberville is still leaving over 300 senior officers in limbo.

The 83-11 vote to confirm Brown as Joint Chiefs chair was a surprise development amid the Alabama Republican’s promotions hold.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who for months refused to hold standalone votes on military nominees, teed up votes on three of President Joe Biden’s Joint Chiefs picks after Tuberville forced Democrats’ hand.

Tuberville instituted the hold in protest of the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing troops who must travel to obtain abortions or other reproductive care.

Brown, now the Air Force chief of staff, is a historic pick. He becomes just the second Black officer to lead the Joint Chiefs after Army Gen. Colin Powell. And as Air Force chief, Brown was the first Black military service chief.

Brown’s confirmation also averts another unprecedented senior vacancy when Gen. Mark Milley steps down from the top post at the end of the month. The nominee blockade has already resulted in three spots on the Joint Chiefs — the heads of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps — going without Senate-confirmed leaders.

"In the end, the Senate will overwhelmingly vote to overcome Senator Tuberville’s blockade of these three nominees, … and the abortion policy that Senator Tuberville abhors will remain in place," Schumer said. "But the harm he is doing to the military and their families remains and, unfortunately, continues for hundreds of others."

The Senate is slated to also vote to confirm Gen. Randy George and Gen. Eric Smith, Biden’s picks to lead the Army and Marines, respectively, on Thursday. Both nominees, who are their services’ No. 2 officers, are performing those jobs on an acting basis.

But those three are just a fraction of the more than 300 senior promotions that are still in limbo as Tuberville refuses to allow their speedy confirmation. Tuberville alone can’t block anyone’s confirmation and has insisted Democrats can just simply hold votes on individual picks.

Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) vowed to keep working to clear the logjam and suggested that Democrats’ pressure campaign was paying off.

“I think more and more people are understanding the severe damage that is being done to our military,” Reed said, “and it's a question at what point Sen. Tuberville and others decide, and their constituents decide, that tactically this is not the appropriate way to deal with the issue.”

For months, Schumer had refused to consider individual nominees, instead keeping pressure on Republicans to intervene. Democrats and the administration have noted that doing so would eat up several hundred hours of floor time to get through all the nominees.

But Tuberville planned to make his own procedural motion to force a vote on Smith’s nomination on Wednesday, forcing Schumer’s hand. A vote compelled by Tuberville would have put Democrats in the awkward spot of potentially blocking one of Biden’s nominees.

While he claimed victory, Tuberville reiterated that Schumer allowing votes on the three Joint Chiefs picks doesn’t change his underlying objections.

"To be clear, my hold is still in place. The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon's illegal abortion policy remains in place," Tuberville said. "If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It's easy as that."

Some Republican senators, however, predicted action on a few top nominees could lead to talks that ultimately break the logjam.

Senate Armed Services ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said after the vote, “there’s a glimmer of hope.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) forecasted Senate action next week on other nominees, calling the confirmations this week “necessary but not sufficient.”

“We have a set of steps in place that will enable us to get all these folks done,” Kaine said. He added that the holds are “wrong, and we’re going to keep up the pressure.”

Despite the blockade, Brown’s nomination saw deep bipartisan support for the low-key Air Force general to take over for Milley.

A fighter pilot with over 3,000 flying hours, Brown served as the head of Pacific Air Forces before coming to the Pentagon in his current job. That experience, supporters argue, give him the right set of skills as the military focuses on China as the primary long-term threat.

Brown also commanded Air Force personnel in the Middle East and served in Europe when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

Brown has also spoken out about his own experience, following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, as one of the service's few Black pilots. In an emotional video, Brown reflected on "my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality."

And while his nomination was granted a reprieve from the Senate standoff that’s wreaked havoc in the ranks, Brown had his own words of caution for lawmakers about the far-reaching effects of the delays. Tuberville’s hold could convince many junior officers to leave, he warned during his July confirmation hearing.

"We have our more junior officers who now will look up and say, 'If that's the challenge I'm going to have to deal with in the future … I'm going to balance between my family and serving in a senior position,'" Brown said. "And we will lose talent because of those challenges.”

Joe Gould contributed to this report.

FactChecking Trump on ‘Meet the Press’

FactCheck -

Kristen Welker’s first week as the new moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” featured an interview with former President Donald Trump, and she was busy trying to push back on his numerous false and misleading statements.

Here are some that we identified:

  • Trump denied that he asked a staffer at Mar-a-Lago to delete security camera footage, arguing that the recordings were provided to federal investigators. The indictment alleges Trump tried, through intermediaries, to convince an IT staffer to delete the footage, but the staffer refused.
  • He said that if reelected he “certainly might” pardon some of those convicted for crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, because “some of them never even went into the building” and were sentenced to “many years” in prison. That’s true, but those people were convicted for helping to plan the attack or committing violent acts outside the building.
  • Trump falsely claimed that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned down his offer to provide 10,000 National Guard members at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and that the House Jan. 6 committee destroyed all the evidence about it.
  • The former president said he could have pardoned himself before he left office and “saved me … all of these fake charges.” Legal experts say it’s dubious that Trump could have pardoned himself, and in any case, it would not have saved him from the state indictments he faces or the federal classified documents case, which pertains mostly to actions Trump took after he left office.
  • Trump misleadingly claimed that Democrats want to allow abortions “after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months,” and he falsely claimed that they say “even after birth, you’re allowed to terminate the baby.”
  • He overstated and understated the respective amounts of financial assistance that the U.S. and European nations have allocated to help Ukraine in the war with Russia.
Trump Denies Asking Staff to Destroy Security Tapes

Trump denied that he asked a staffer at Mar-a-Lago to delete security camera footage, saying repeatedly that no footage was ever deleted and that recordings were provided to federal investigators.

But the federal indictment regarding Trump’s handling of presidential documents does not allege that Trump deleted the security footage, only that he tried — through intermediaries — to get a staffer to delete the recordings. The indictment says the staffer refused.

Welker: A new charge suggests you asked a staffer to delete security camera footage so it wouldn’t get into the hands of investigators. Did you do that?

Trump: That’s false. …

It’s a fake charge by this deranged lunatic prosecutor, who lost in the Supreme Court nine to nothing. And he tried to destroy lots of lives. He’s a lunatic. So it’s a fake charge. But, more importantly, the tapes weren’t deleted. In other words, there was nothing done to them. And they were my tapes. I could’ve fought them. I didn’t even have to give them the tapes, I don’t think. I think I would have won in court. When they asked for the tapes, I said, “Sure.” They’re my tapes. I could have fought them. I didn’t even have to give them. Just so you understand, though, we didn’t delete anything. Nothing was deleted.

Welker: So that’s false. The people who testified —

Trump: Number one, the statement is false. Much more importantly, when the tapes came, and everybody says this, they weren’t deleted. We gave them 100%. … And, and, and, just so you know, I offered them. I said, “If you want to look at tapes, you can look at them.”

The superseding indictment, filed by the Department of Justice on July 27, alleges that Trump, Walt Nauta, an executive assistant to the former president, and Carlos De Oliveira, property manager at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, conspired to delete security camera footage at the club to conceal it from the FBI and grand jury.

Setting the timeline, the indictment says FBI agents who went to Mar-a-Lago to pick up subpoenaed documents from a Trump attorney on June 3, 2022, noticed that there were surveillance cameras located near the storage room where classified documents were stored. Later that month, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena for the security camera footage between Jan. 10, 2022, and June 24, 2022.

The indictment documents a series of meetings, phone calls and text messages involving Trump, Nauta and De Oliveira that ended with Nauta making an unscheduled and secret trip to Mar-a-Lago in late June 2022 and meeting with De Oliveira.

According to the indictment, on the morning of June 27, 2022, De Oliveira went to the IT office where a man identified as “Trump Employee 4” was working. That man was later identified by the New York Times as Yuscil Taveras, an IT worker at Mar-a-Lago.

According to the indictment, the two men walked through a basement tunnel to “a small room known as an ‘audio closet,’” where De Oliveira told Taveras their conversation should remain between the two of them. De Oliveira told Taveras “that ‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted. [Taveras] responded that he would not know how to do that, and that he did not believe that he would have the rights to do that.” Taveras said that De Oliveira would need to reach out to a supervisor of security for Trump’s business organization.

According to the indictment, “De Oliveira then insisted to [Taveras] that “the boss” wanted the server deleted and asked, “What are we going to do?” (For more information, read our article “Timeline of FBI Investigation of Trump’s Handling of Highly Classified Documents.”)

Taveras’ attorney confirmed in early September that Taveras has agreed to testify for the government after he was offered a non-prosecution agreement, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

The indictment notes that the FBI and grand jury obtained the surveillance footage in July. The fact that it was ultimately provided does not prove whether or not Trump attempted to have it destroyed.

Considering Jan. 6 Pardons

If reelected president, Trump said he “certainly might” pardon some of those convicted for crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol because, he said, “some of them never even went into the building, and they’re being given sentences of, you know, many years.”

Trump: We have to treat people fairly. These people on January 6th, they went – some of them never even went into the building, and they’re being given sentences of, you know, many years.

More than 1,100 people have been charged with crimes related to the Capitol attack. And about 110 of them have been sentenced so far to two or more years in prison.

But Trump is right that a few who did not enter the Capitol were sentenced to “many years” in prison. However, those people who got lengthy prison sentences were charged with helping to plan the attack or for committing violent acts outside the Capitol in furtherance of the assault on the Capitol.

One example is Enrique Tarrio, the former national leader of the Proud Boys.

On Sept. 5, Tarrio received the longest sentence handed down yet for those involved in the Capitol attack — 22 years in prison — for seditious conspiracy and organizing the plan to block the presidential transfer of power. He wasn’t even in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021; he had been arrested two days earlier for burning a “Black Lives Matter” banner stolen from a historic African American church in Washington, D.C., and was banned from the city. But District Court Judge Timothy Kelly said Tarrio “was the ultimate leader, the ultimate person who organized, who was motivated by revolutionary zeal.” 

Likewise, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison following his conviction on charges that included seditious conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding. Although he never entered the Capitol, Rhodes directed his team via a walkie-talkie app, the Hill reported. Beginning in late December 2020, Rhodes used “encrypted and private communications applications” to coordinate and plan travel to Washington, D.C., according to the Justice Department.

In a sentencing memo, the Justice Department said Rhodes “exploited his vast public influence as the leader of the Oath Keepers and used his talents for manipulation to goad more than twenty other American citizens into using force, intimidation, and violence to seek to impose their preferred result on a U.S. presidential election.”

Guy Reffit, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but never entered it, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Prosecutors said Reffitt, who had a handgun, body armor, a helmet, radio and flex cuffs, “lit the match” of the Capitol attack. Prosecutors said he helped instigate the crowd “into an unstoppable force” against police officers who were blocking doors to the Senate wing, according to the Texas Tribune.

Sean McHugh was sentenced on Sept. 7 to more than six years in prison. Although his attorney said McHugh never actually entered the Capitol, prosecutors said he “actively participated” in at least four attempts to breach the police perimeters set up outside the Capitol. He was accused of spraying police officers with bear spray and wrestling an officer.

About 140 officers were assaulted — about 80 Capitol Police officers and 60 D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers — at the Capitol during the attack, the Justice Department has said.

Trump Wrongly Blames Pelosi for Jan. 6

Trump falsely claimed that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi turned down his offer to provide 10,000 National Guard members at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and that the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol destroyed all the evidence about it. Therefore, he concluded, Pelosi was “responsible for Jan. 6th.”

None of that is true.

Trump: Listen. Nancy Pelosi was in charge of security. She turned down 10,000 soldiers. If she didn’t turn down the soldiers, you wouldn’t have had January 6th. … Listen to me. I understand that the police testified against her – the chief, very strongly against her. Capitol Police, they’re great people. They testified against her. And they burned all the evidence. Okay? They burned all the evidence. … They destroyed all the evidence about Nancy Pelosi. 

Welker: What do you say to people who wonder why you, as commander-in-chief, you have authorities that Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have, as commander-in-chief?

Trump: No, no. She has authority over the Capitol. 

Welker: Why didn’t you send help in that moment, though? 

Trump: Frankly, just so you understand, I assumed that she took care of it. …

Welker: She says that that request was never officially made, just so you know. 

Trump: Oh, stop it. … The mayor of D.C. gave us a letter, saying that she turns it down, okay? We have it. Nancy Pelosi also was asked, and she turned it down. The police commissioner of Capitol Police – … Capitol Police said that he wanted it. And Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t accept it. She’s responsible for Jan. 6th. 

As we have written, the claim that Pelosi “has authority over the Capitol” is overstated. The speaker does not oversee security of the U.S. Capitol. The speaker appoints one member of the four-member Capitol Police Board, which oversees Capitol security. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, also appointed a member.

As for Trump’s claim that Pelosi turned down his request for 10,000 National Guard troops, the House select committee said it found “no evidence” of that, and noted that then-Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said there was “no direct order from the president” to put 10,000 National Guard troops on the ready.

Then-White House Senior Adviser Max Miller and Katrina Pierson, one of the rally organizers, testified that two days before the Jan. 6 rally, Trump talked about his intent to march with the supporters to the Capitol, but was warned about safety concerns. They testified that Trump “floated the idea of having 10,000 National Guardsmen deployed to protect him and his supporters from any supposed threats by leftwing counter-protestors,” the committee’s report on its findings said. Miller said he rejected the idea.

In other words, the committee noted, “Trump briefly considered having the National Guard oversee his procession to the U.S. Capitol” but he “did not order the National Guard to protect the U.S. Capitol, or to secure the joint session proceedings” to count the Electoral College votes and certify the presidential election.

In a book released earlier this year, former Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund reiterated his claim — made to the Jan. 6 committee — that he requested National Guard troops two days before the Jan. 6 event, but that the House and Senate sergeants at arms rejected it.

In testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, Sund said House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving “stated that he was concerned about the ‘optics’ of having National Guard present and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it.” According to a Washington Post article on March 2, 2021, Sund said in his book that he “later learned the two (sergeants at arms) believed that Pelosi would never allow it.” But Sund did not say that Pelosi was ever asked about the request or that she blocked it.

A spokesperson for Pelosi told the Washington Post at the time that the claim that Pelosi rejected the assignment of National Guard troops due to the optics was “completely made up,” and repeated that response when asked about Trump’s latest comments.

In a Sept. 17 interview on MSNBC, Pelosi responded to Trump’s claim that she is “responsible for January 6th” by saying the former president “has always been about projection. He knows he’s responsible for [the Capitol attack], so he projects it onto others.”

“Now, he used to say, ‘Well, she turned down my troops.’ No,” Pelosi said. “We begged him. [Democratic Sen.] Chuck Schumer and I begged him to send the troops, again and again.”

We reached out to a spokesman for Trump for clarification or backup for the former president’s claim that the Jan. 6 committee “burned all the evidence” from Capitol Police that implicated Pelosi, but we did not get a response.

However, it seems likely Trump was referring to allegations Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk made in a Fox News interview in August that the Jan. 6 committee failed to adequately preserve some documents, data and video depositions. That led to Trump posting this on social media: “The January 6th Unselect Committee got rid of EVERYTHING! Discarded, Deleted, Thrown Out. A Flagrant Violation of the law.”

To be clear, Loudermilk did not allege that all of the committee’s records were not preserved, as Trump claimed. Much of the committee’s work was released publicly in its nearly 850-page report, as well as more than 140 publicly released transcripts and documents. Rather, the issue comes down to a debate over the committee rules for what documents and materials need to be archived.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat and the committee chairman, wrote that, consistent with guidance from the House Office of the Clerk, “the Select Committee did not archive temporary committee records that were not elevated by the Committee’s actions, such as use in hearings or official publications, or those that did not further its investigative activities.”

Specifically, the House committee did publicly release a transcript of Sund’s interview.

On Pardoning Himself as President

Trump said he could have pardoned himself before he left office and “that would’ve saved me all of these lawyers, and all of these fake charges, these Biden indictments. They’re all Biden indictments, political.”

But experts say it’s not clear that Trump could have pardoned himself, and in any case, it would not have saved him from the state indictments he faces in New York and Georgia, nor would it have prevented an indictment in the federal classified documents case, which mostly pertains to actions Trump took after he left office.

Trump: I could’ve pardoned myself. Do you know what? I was given an option to pardon myself. I could’ve pardoned myself when I left. People said, “Would you like to pardon yourself?” I had a couple of attorneys that said, “You can do it if you want.” I had some people that said, “It would look bad, if you do.” Because I think it would look terrible. … The last day, I could’ve had a pardon done that would’ve saved me all of these lawyers, and all of these fake charges, these Biden indictments. They’re all Biden indictments, political. … So, ready? I never said this to anybody. I was given the option. I could’ve done a pardon of myself. You know what I said? “I have no interest in even thinking about it.” I never even wanted to think about it.  

As we have written, whether a president could pardon himself remains an unresolved legal issue. In July 2017, one of Trump’s personal attorneys at the time, Jay Sekulow, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the power to pardon oneself has “never been adjudicated” and would likely be decided by the Supreme Court.

“It isn’t clear that the president has the power to pardon himself,” Brian Kalt, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law who has written about self-pardons, told us via email. “He could have tried, but prosecutors could have pursued him anyway and then the courts would have had to decide whether the pardon was valid or not.”

But in any case, such a pardon would not have had any effect on three of the four indictments Trump now faces.

“Even if the pardon was valid it would not have affected state prosecutions at all,” Kalt said.

So a pardon would not have affected the 34-count indictment brought by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. That case centers on allegations that Trump conspired to pay porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet during the 2016 presidential election about an alleged sexual encounter and then falsified business records to cover up state and federal election law violations. 

A presidential pardon also would not have prevented an indictment brought by a special state grand jury in Georgia that alleges Trump and 18 co-defendants “refused to accept that Trump lost” the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden and conspired “to unlawfully change the outcome.”

“The president’s pardon power applies to ‘offenses against the United States,’ or federal crimes, so it would not help him in Georgia or New York, where he faces state charges,” Jeffrey Crouch, an assistant professor of American politics at American University and an expert on the presidential pardon power, told us via email.

Harvard constitutional scholar Mark Tushnet said Trump’s lawyers “might argue that the state indictments in both New York and Georgia rest on state statutes that have been preempted (that is, entirely displaced) by federal law and so are in effect indictments for offences against the United States, but I won’t expect that any reasonable court would accept that argument.”

Moreover, Kalt said, even if such a self-pardon was valid for federal charges, “it could only cover actions done before the pardon was issued, so it would not be able to be applied to anything he did after leaving office.”

So a self-pardon in Trump’s final days in office would not have prevented a 44-page federal indictment against Trump that alleges he unlawfully possessed and mishandled sensitive classified documents after he left office, and obstructed federal officials who tried to get them back.

“The classified documents controversy happened after Trump left the White House, so he would need to become president again in order to try to grant clemency to himself concerning that event,” Crouch said. “Although the president does not need to wait for someone to be formally charged, stand trial or be sentenced, he does need to have something to pardon. He could not have granted clemency for a ‘future’ crime.”

Ukraine Aid

Trump called out Europe, which he said has not provided nearly as much financial support as the U.S. to Ukraine amid its war with Russia.

“I think that Europe has to do more,” Trump said, when Welker asked if the security of the U.S. “is linked to Ukraine’s security.” He continued: “We’re in for $200 billion. They’re in for $25 billion. And it affects them more than it affects us.”

Those figures are not accurate.

As we have written, the U.S. already has authorized about $113 billion for Ukraine — most of which, $67 billion, is military aid, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The overall total is about 44% less than what Trump claimed the U.S. has given.

In August, Biden requested a reported $24 billion in additional Ukraine-related funding, including about $13 billion in security assistance. But that money so far has not been approved by Congress.

Meanwhile, as of July, the European Union, which includes 27 member nations, had “made available over $88 billion in financial, military, humanitarian, and refugee assistance,” since the start of the war, according to the EU Delegation to the United States. About $27 billion of the EU’s aid to Ukraine was for military assistance, the delegation said.

Also, the EU total does not include aid offered by European countries that are not EU members, such as the United Kingdom and Norway.

The U.K. has committed at least 4.6 billion pounds, or about $5.7 billion, in military assistance for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Norway contributed 10.7 billion kroner, or nearly $1 billion, in 2022 to Ukraine and other countries affected by the war, and it has pledged to contribute another 75 billion kroner from 2023 to 2027, which would be about $7 billion.


Welker pushed back on Trump’s distorted claim that “radical” Democrats “say, after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, and even after birth, you’re allowed to terminate the baby.”

“Democrats aren’t saying that. That’s not true,” she told him.

As we have written, many Democrats, including Biden, support codifying the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions up until the point of fetal viability. The ruling defined viability as generally from 24 to 28 weeks of gestation, although a court ruling three years later said viability should be determined by the attending physician.

The Roe ruling, and the decision in a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, also required post-viability exceptions for the life and physical and mental health of the mother.

House Democrats also passed the Women’s Health Protection Act in 2021. It would allow states to restrict or prohibit abortions after viability except in cases where the life or health of the mother is jeopardized. Republicans claimed that bill would permit abortion “until birth for any reason,” but Democrats said that was not the intent.

Furthermore, less than 1% of abortions in 2020 were performed at or after 21 weeks, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 93% were performed at or before 13 weeks of gestation.

Later in the interview, Trump told Welker that “you’re allowed to kill the baby after birth” in New York and other states — which is false.

So-called “post-birth abortion,” otherwise known as infanticide, is not legal in any U.S. state. “No such procedure exists,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says on its website.

In addition, we have written that New York’s 2019 Reproductive Health Act permits abortions after 24 weeks when a health care professional determines the health or life of the mother is at risk, or the fetus is not viable. The law does not say that abortions after birth are allowed.

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Flu Shots, MMR Vaccines Have Saved Millions of Lives, Contrary to Online Claim

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SciCheck Digest

Flu shots and vaccines that protect children against measles, mumps and rubella have been effective in preventing illness, serious disease and death. But a meme has been circulating with the false suggestion that those vaccines are ineffective. Actually, they’ve saved millions of lives and have eliminated both measles and rubella in the U.S.

Full Story

Public health experts around the world have hailed the widespread use of vaccines as one of the most important medical advances in the last century.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements of biomedical science and public health,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in 1999.

“Immunization currently prevents 3.5-5 million deaths every year from diseases like tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles,” the World Health Organization wrote in a recent roundup celebrating its 75th anniversary. “As diseases like polio and diphtheria fall out of living memory, people are increasingly vaccinated against diseases they have never seen, making it harder to understand how devastating they can be.”

But while vaccines are responsible for saving millions of lives and preventing even more illnesses, public confidence in vaccination has begun to erode in recent years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, while overall support for vaccines remained high, public perception of the importance of vaccination for children fell in 52 of 55 countries studied by UNICEF. The U.S. was among the countries where it declined.

Anti-vaccine advocates used the pandemic to amplify their message by targeting the new COVID-19 shots and gaining many followers.

“Although anti-vaccine activism was already increasing in the USA and internationally, the 2020 emergence of COVID-19 served as an accelerant, helping turn a niche movement into a more powerful force,” according to a recent paper published in the Lancet.

A meme circulating on social media (shown at right) illustrates how false claims about long-accepted vaccines have become entwined with the campaign against COVID-19 vaccines.

The meme references flu shots and the combined vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella, called MMR, both of which have been available for decades. It falsely suggests that those inoculations don’t work. Social media accounts that have shared the meme also include captions that say things like, “How long will we pretend the COVID vax works?” Another, similar meme focused on the flu shot claim has also been circulating.

This is just the latest version of the well-worn falsehood that the continued spread of COVID-19 proves that the vaccines don’t work. We’ve explained before why that’s wrong. As new variants of COVID-19 emerged, the vaccines became less effective in preventing symptomatic infection, but they are still highly effective in preventing severe disease and death.

This new meme deploys the same deceptive tactic to cast doubt on two other, unrelated vaccines. We’ll address the effectiveness of each vaccine below.

Flu Vaccine

Flu shots were first developed with help from the U.S. Army in the early 1940s and were approved for use in 1945.

Those early shots were effective against only a couple of strains of the influenza virus, though. There are four types of influenza — called A, B, C and D — and the two that are mostly likely to affect humans, A and B, can be broken down into more specific subtypes and lineages.

In order to monitor which of those strains were most prevalent at a given time, the WHO started the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System in 1952. The GISRS continues that work today in 127 countries, making it easier to target specific strains each year.

“There is often more than one type of influenza virus circulating each season,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has explained on its website. “So, vaccines are formulated to target four of the most likely influenza viruses to circulate and cause illness in the U.S. during the upcoming influenza season: two influenza A types (H1N1 and H3N2) and two types of influenza B. These are known as quadrivalent vaccines. Influenza B more commonly affects children and also causes more complications and death in children than adults.”

So, flu vaccines have improved since they were first introduced, and the number of people getting them has increased over time.

According to CDC data, the number of doses administered in the U.S. has risen markedly over the last four decades. In the 1980-1981 flu season, the earliest for which there is data, 12.4 million people were vaccinated. In the 2020-2021 flu season, which was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a record high 194.4 million people were vaccinated. That high dropped slightly in the following two flu seasons, to 175.6 million in 2021-2022 and 173.4 million in 2022-2023.

Since the 2010-2011 flu season, the CDC estimates that vaccination has prevented nearly 5,500 deaths each season on average, as we’ve explained before, excluding the 2020-2021 flu season since measures adopted to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 led to far fewer cases of the flu.

So, the flu vaccine clearly works.

However, the meme suggests that flu vaccines aren’t effective because they haven’t eradicated influenza after nearly 80 years and there’s still a need for annual vaccinations.

But that reasoning is flawed for a couple of reasons.

First, not all vaccines are the same. Some require only a primary series to be effective for life (such as the hepatitis B vaccine) and others require new dosages regularly (such as the flu vaccine). This is because the viruses they’re designed to address behave differently.

Long-lasting vaccines typically target viruses that replicate uniformly, Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease expert at the Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, explained in a post for the hospital.

“They replicate very faithfully, so if you have hepatitis B, every hepatitis B virus in your body looks identical,” she said. “The same with measles. They are very good at replicating themselves without error, and that is a huge benefit for us, because it means that once you get antibodies against one hepatitis B or measles virus, you have immunity against every hepatitis B or measles virus you are ever going to encounter.”

By contrast, the influenza virus shifts frequently.

“The reason we have to get the flu shot every year is that the influenza virus is able to shuffle its chromosomes around in a way that most viruses cannot,” Yancey said.

“This actually happens on a very regular basis, and that’s why, every year, we have to come up with a new flu vaccine depending on the strains currently circulating,” she said.

Scientists are working to develop a universal vaccine for the flu, which would be effective against a broad spectrum of strains, Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a professor at Harvard Medical School, explained in an April post. It would work by targeting a common element shared by most flu strains that’s buried deeper in the structure of the cell instead of targeting structures on the outer layer, as is the case now.

The same thing that necessitates a different formulation for the vaccine each year — the wide variety of strains and their ability to quickly mutate — is also the reason that influenza hasn’t been eradicated.

“[E]ven if we could vaccinate everyone around the world, we would not be able to eradicate influenza,” the American Museum of Natural History explained about the elimination of diseases. “There are many different strains of influenza virus, and they mutate frequently — so new vaccines must constantly be created to keep up. There’s another problem as well: some animals can become infected with different strains of influenza, and these can spread to people and other mammals. Avian flu comes from birds, and swine flu from pigs. Unless we can figure out how to inoculate all birds and pigs, we’ll never be able to stop transmission of the infection.”

And as the CDC has explained, “At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that vaccination will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) how well the vaccines ‘match’ the flu viruses spreading in the community. When flu vaccines are not well matched to some viruses spreading in the community, vaccination may provide little or no protection against illness caused by those viruses.”

MMR Vaccine

Measles was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 due to widespread vaccination in the preceding decades.

Rubella was eliminated four years later.

While mumps hasn’t yet been eliminated in the U.S., there’s been a 99% reduction in cases since the first mumps vaccine became available in 1967.

Those three vaccines were combined into the common childhood shot called MMR in 1971, which was 52 years ago.

Since the meme refers to a vaccine that’s been available for 60 years, it’s probably talking about the first measles vaccine, which was licensed for use in 1963. So, we’ll focus on the impact of vaccination against measles.

As we said, measles has been eliminated in the U.S., which means that the disease hasn’t spread for a year or more in a specific area. However, unvaccinated travelers may bring it into the U.S. and cause isolated outbreaks in communities with other unvaccinated people.

“By the end of 2021, 76 (39%) countries had been verified by independent regional commissions as having achieved or maintained measles elimination status,” according to the CDC.

The WHO has estimated that measles vaccination has prevented 56 million deaths worldwide between 2000 and 2021.

Although the U.S. has maintained its measles elimination status, there have been some outbreaks in recent years. As we wrote about one such case in 2019, travelers had brought the virus into the country and the disease then spread in communities that have unvaccinated people, according to the CDC.

The CDC issued a statement that April identifying misinformation about the safety of vaccines as a “significant factor” contributing to the outbreak. Similarly, the executive director of UNICEF and the director-general of the WHO issued a joint statement calling measles “the canary in the coalmine of vaccine preventable illnesses.” They, too, cited online misinformation about vaccine safety as a contributing factor in the rising number of measles cases in high- and middle-income countries.

Similarly, an Ohio outbreak in late 2022 was concentrated among unvaccinated patients.

“This outbreak was characterized by young median patient age, low rates of MMR vaccination, and high rates of respiratory coinfection, with twice the hospitalization rate reported among previous measles cases in the United States,” according to a CDC report on the incident. “This outbreak serves as a reminder that health care facilities, medical providers, and child care facilities serving undervaccinated populations should maintain vigilance for measles and emphasize the importance of timely MMR vaccination. Sustaining elimination of measles in the United States will require continued high 2-dose MMR vaccination coverage in all communities.”

So, the suggestion that the MMR vaccine hasn’t been effective is easily disproved. It’s led to the elimination in the U.S. of two of the three targeted illnesses and a steep decline in the third.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s articles providing accurate health information and correcting health misinformation are made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.


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The post Flu Shots, MMR Vaccines Have Saved Millions of Lives, Contrary to Online Claim appeared first on FactCheck.org.


On the House Floor -

The title for this bill has not yet been received. (09/20/2023 legislative day)

Tom Perez finds life, and a lot of work, after the DNC

Politico -

When Tom Perez returned to the White House earlier this summer, he did not anticipate spending so much of his time focused on the state of New York and its response to a surge of migrants. But his job — director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs — is largely about solving problems, wherever they crop up.

Senior administration officials have come to think of Perez as something of a “utility infielder,” an experienced hand who can play a different role every day. He can be advising the team monitoring the United Auto Workers strike, helping agencies implement policy or offering input on political strategy, all while constantly working his two cell phones.

A former Labor secretary in the Obama administration and chair of the DNC, Perez has been convening meetings twice a week with New York city and state officials while coordinating responses to the migrant influx from several government agencies, he said in an interview last Friday. The previous day, he’d traveled to New York to meet with Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul, both of whom have been critical of the White House’s approach to the crisis.

“Kathy Hochul and I have each other on speed dial, and I appreciate that — she’s working her tail off,” said Perez, who also met last week with philanthropists, business leaders, service providers and immigration lawyers, securing commitments from the private sector to hire migrants as soon as they become legally eligible to work. “This job involves collaboration at scale: collaboration within the West Wing of the White House, collaboration with our agency partners, collaboration with state and local elected officials, with faith leaders, business leaders.”

Hochul, who’s known the “Buffalo native” Perez for decades, returned the praise.

“Our frequent conversations and his engagement with my staff — in person and remotely — has made a huge difference and we have more to do,” she told West Wing Playbook.

Perez’s role inside the White House was, at the start, tricky to define. He had run and lost a campaign to become governor of Maryland and, more than anything else, seemed to need a new place within the Democratic infrastructure. He was given a portfolio that included the role of “senior adviser.” While less narrowly defined, it allowed Perez to deploy his experience in several areas, in addition to directing the OIA and engaging with elected officials in all 50 states.

“If people are looking for linear job descriptions, this is probably not that kind of job,” he said.

On Monday, Perez traveled to Ohio for an event focused on workforce development. Earlier this month, he flew to Los Angeles to meet with Mayor Karen Bass about homelessness. He toured Skid Row, as well as the Port of Los Angeles to discuss new investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In the days and weeks following the Maui wildfires, he spoke several times a day with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green. “He’s far and away the most responsive person I’ve ever worked with in the federal government,” said Green, who credited Perez’s engagement for getting almost immediate approval of Hawaii’s request for a federal disaster declaration. “He understands what we’ve gone through.”

Ensconced in his second floor corner office directly above the Oval, Perez has taken on a broad portfolio that extends beyond crisis response. He is working with HHS officials to ensure Medicaid recipients aren’t automatically bumped from the rolls for failing to return renewal documentation. He has engaged with local leaders across the country about extreme heat. He hosted a White House Childcare Convening in July, and he is trying to make sure states and cities, as well as businesses, are taking advantage of opportunities from the Inflation Reduction Act.

And in recent days he has been advising Gene Sperling and others about the ongoing UAW strike. Sperling was designated as the administration’s lead on the negotiations before Perez returned to the White House. Perez, while praising Sperling as “remarkably well qualified” for the assignment, acknowledged he’s been “providing help and counsel behind the scenes,” noting that he’d met with Sperling last Friday morning just hours after the UAW began its strike.

“This is an all hands on deck moment, and I do have some relationships in the labor movement that are helpful,” Perez said.

“When I can pick up the phone and call someone with whom I’ve been working with for 10-15 years … having those relationships at a state, federal and local level, knowing how agencies work, it just gives me a leg up in being able to play a meaningful role on a wide range of issues.”

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