TAIPEI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar arrived in Taiwan on Sunday as the highest-level U.S. official to visit in four decades, a trip condemned by China which claims the island as its own, further irritating Sino-U.S. relations.
Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing. The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority, and boosted arms sales.
Beijing, already arguing with Washington over everything from human rights and trade to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has threatened unspecified countermeasures to Azar’s visit. China considers Taiwan a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if needed.
Azar arrived at Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport on a U.S. government aircraft late in the afternoon, and was met by Brent Christensen, the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, and by Taiwan Deputy Foreign Minister Tien Chung-kwang.
In accordance with COVID-19 rules, there were no handshakes and all officials wore masks, including Azar, as seen in images broadcast live on Taiwanese television.
Azar is coming to strengthen economic and public-health cooperation with Taiwan and support Taiwan’s international role in fighting the pandemic.
On Monday he will sign a health cooperation memorandum of understanding with Taiwan’s government and visit Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control.
He is also scheduled to meet President Tsai Ing-wen during his visit.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar listens during a roundtable discussion on “America’s seniors” hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
Azar and his team had to be tested for the coronavirus before and upon arrival. They will have to wear face masks throughout their visit and practice social distancing.
Taiwan’s early and effective steps to fight the disease have kept its case numbers far lower than those of its neighbours, with 480 infections, including seven deaths. Most cases have been imported.
The United States has had more coronavirus cases and deaths than any other country, and the wearing of masks has become a heated political issue, with some people objecting to what they see as an infringement of personal freedom.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by William Mallard
(CNN)Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts “has been a disappointment to conservatives,” after Roberts, who was appointed by a Republican president, sided with liberal justices this term in several major cases seen as losses for the Trump administration.
“Look, we have great respect for the institution of the Supreme Court of the United States, but Chief Justice John Roberts has been a disappointment to conservatives,” Pence said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody set to air in full Thursday.
He cited Roberts’ 2012 move to uphold the Affordable Care Act and the chief justice’s recent siding with liberals to deny a petition from a Nevada church that argued a policy limiting in-person church attendance to 50 during the coronavirus pandemic violated the Constitution.
“I think several cases out of the Supreme Court are a reminder of just how important this election is for the future of the Supreme Court,” Pence told CBN.
The vice president also pointed to the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike down a controversial Louisiana abortion law that critics said would have closed nearly every clinic in the state. Roberts delivered a fifth vote to the liberals — the first time the chief justice had voted against an abortion restriction.
Pence on Wednesday said it was a “wakeup call” for anti-abortion voters, “who understand in a very real sense the destiny of the Supreme Court is on the ballot in 2020.”
In June, after the two defeats, President Donald Trump said he would release a new list of conservatives he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court — a tactic he used in 2016 to rally Republicans.
“Based on decisions being rendered now, this list is more important than ever before,” Trump tweeted.
Pence told CBN that Trump will “keep his word and appoint more principled conservatives to our court” if elected to a second term.
CNN’s Mary Kay Mallonee and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.
Former CDC director Tom Frieden warns that at least five states have sharply rising cases of COVID-19 and are headed toward ‘big outbreaks.’ To slow its spread, he said Americans must wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distance. (June 22)
To get a better handle on the COVID-19 pandemic, every state in the country should be providing more data, Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday.
Frieden is now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative designed to prevent epidemics and cardiovascular disease, which recommended Tuesday that states release 15 categories of information deemed “essential” to understanding the pandemic.
The categories include things like a rolling average of new cases and deaths, hospitalizations per capita, testing turnaround time, number of contacts of infected people traced within 48 hours, and percentage of people wearing masks in indoor settings such as stores and on mass transit. No state provides all 15 categories of data, only 40% of essential data points are being monitored and reported publicly, and half isn’t made public at all, Frieden said in a video call with reporters.
“We’re flying blind on the risk and effectiveness of the response,” Frieden said in a prepared statement. “Data are inconsistent, incomplete and inaccessible.”
Right now, for example, there are not enough tests for everyone who needs or wants one. Frieden said state governments should “be frank about that” and prioritize testing for vulnerable populations, like hospitalized patients, people who work in meat processing plants, and those in nursing homes, prisons and homeless shelters.
“That’s the kind of meaningful metric that can help us get ahead of the virus,” he said, “not just ‘oh we’re going to test another 400,000 so we can say we tested another 400,000.'”
The federal government should have required this data months ago, he and others on the call said, but in the absence of national leadership, Resolve to Save Lives decided to step into the void.
“With clear guidance, we can understand our risk better and improve our response rapidly,” Frieden said. “This information was obtained with taxpayer dollars and we should demand that we have access to the information…on performance and risk.”
Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, who was also on the call, said uniform and consisted data would provide a “road map” for measuring success. “We’re trying to give a group of metrics that when taken as a whole give you a real picture of whether or not we’re getting our hands around this epidemic.”
If Arizona had been keeping data on COVID-like illnesses in late May, for example, it would have gotten an early warning that its cases were about to increase dramatically, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, director of the Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve to Save Live.
Benjamin added that he wished this data collection had been started in March. “We’re way behind the curve,” he said. But put in place now, the metrics will eventually provide a better picture of the pandemic in the United States, and guide decisions to help combat it.
Individuals also need this information to make good decisions, said Caitlin RIvers, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who was also on the call. “The more information we can get out to the public, the better we will be able to do on both an official and individual level,” she said.
Frieden said the CDC made some mistakes in fighting Ebola, when he ran the agency, but because data was made available, those mistakes were identifiable and fixable.
Data has to be available to inform decision making, Benjamin said. “What gets measured, what gets seen, gets done,” he said. “Advocacy groups can add political pressure, resource allocators can figure out where to put the money. The media can hold us accountable.”
All the speakers also reinforced the importance of increasing funding for the CDC and supporting the experts who work for government – in an implied slap at the current administration, which has often overlooked its own experts.
“I still trust the CDC,” Benjamin said. “They haven’t stopped being smart. They haven’t stopped being innovative. They’ve been silenced.”
States shouldn’t be worried that making COVID-19 data accessible will make them look bad, Frieden and the others said. “Bad news does not get better with time,” Benjamin said. “This is not an issue of personal pride. These numbers save lives. Making them public saves lives.”
Contact Weintraub at kweintraub@usatoday.
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
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FILE PHOTO: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine talks to the media during a prelaunch briefing before the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 booster rocket from Pad39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday he still expected support from Russia’s space corporation in its Artemis moon program despite Moscow’s space chief slamming the U.S.-led lunar effort.
Bridenstine said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday “the relationship between NASA and Roscosmos is solid” and emphasized that international partners will play a key role in NASA’s plan to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024 and construct a space station orbiting the moon.
“I’ve got a good relationship with Dmitri Rogozin, so I’m hopeful that there are opportunities for us to continue to collaborate,” Bridenstine said, referring to the general director of Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos. But Rogozin called the moon program in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda on Monday a “political project” and likened it to NATO, the Western military alliance Russia has long shunned.
“With the lunar project, we are witnessing the departure of our American partners from the principles of cooperation and mutual support that have developed with the ISS,” Rogozin said. “Frankly speaking, we are not interested in participating in such a project.”The Trump administration in May unveiled an international pact called the Artemis Accords, aiming to leverage its existing relationships on the International Space Station and welcoming agreements with “like-minded” countries to help build a long-term presence on the moon under current international space law.
NASA expects Russia to deliver its offer of an airlock for the Lunar Gateway, a planned outpost in lunar orbit to be built by a mix of private companies and countries and a key piece to the Artemis program.
For two decades the U.S. space relationship with Russia has been largely insulated from geopolitics on Earth, party due to NASA’s reliance on Soyuz launch vehicles for trips to the space station. NASA is now preparing to fly its astronauts on new space capsules from SpaceX and Boeing Co.
Reporting by Joey Roulette; editing by Bill Tarrant and Gerry Doyle
On Friday morning, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that he had selected Kathy Lueders to serve as the space agency’s new chief of human spaceflight. In this position, she will help set human spaceflight policy and implement it across the agency. Her top mandate will be getting humans to the Moon by 2024, or soon thereafter.
“Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024,” Bridenstine said. “Kathy’s the right person to extend the space economy to the lunar vicinity and achieve the ambitious goals we’ve been given.”
As program manager for Commercial Crew—which recently saw SpaceX launch NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station—Lueders has led the one big-ticket program for the space agency that has delivered for Bridenstine. Other high-profile programs, including the Space Launch System rocket and James Webb Space Telescope, have continued to experience delays.
Several sources indicated that this hire is consistent with Bridenstine’s view that commercial space companies will play an increasingly important role in human space exploration going forward. Bridenstine has been pushing NASA to do more of its bidding on the basis of fixed price contracts and favoring bidders that also invest in their own hardware and seek to sell their spaceflight services to customers other than NASA.
As leader of the commercial crew program, Lueders was deliberative. But she also recognized the cultural differences between NASA and companies like SpaceX, which seek to move quickly. In the end, she successfully molded the disparate workforces of NASA and SpaceX into a cohesive team that culminated in a mission that has been successful to date.
Steve Stich, her deputy, will step up to become the commercial crew program manager.
Lueders will replace Doug Loverro, who resigned from NASA a little more than three weeks ago. As Ars reported shortly after the fact, Loverro left NASA after he improperly intervened in the contracting process for a Human Landing System to take astronauts down to the lunar surface. NASA’s inspector general has not yet completed his report, but Loverro is believed to have spoken with Boeing during a black-out period of the bid process.
Loverro had worked at NASA for only about six months. Before him, Bill Gerstenmaier had spent about a decade in the position, superintending the end of the space shuttle program and final assembly of the International Space Station and trying to chart a deep space program. Several months after Gerstenmaier’s departure, he took at job at SpaceX working as an engineer on the company’s human spaceflight vehicles. Sources say he is happy there, enjoying being outside the Beltway and tackling technical challenges.
Uber, in talks to buy Grubhub, raised $900 million to fund acquisitions.
Stocks tumble as the Fed chair warns of a prolonged downturn.
Stocks slid on Wednesday, Wall Street’s second drop in two days, after the chair of the Federal Reserve warned of dire consequences if lawmakers don’t do enough to protect the economy.
The downturn is “without modern precedent,” said Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chief. While the central bank has made efforts to limit the economic shock caused by coronavirus-related shutdowns, more financial support might be required from Washington to prevent lasting damage, he said.
Mr. Powell’s comments came as Democrats and Republicans argued about the merits of a new spending plan. On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled a $3 trillion relief measure that Republicans dismissed as exorbitantly priced and overreaching.
Mr. Powell’s warning — which echoes those of other economists who have said that the government’s relief efforts to date have barely sustained individuals and companies — set the tone for the trading day on Wall Street. The S&P 500 fell nearly 2 percent, adding to its 2 percent loss from the day before.
Investors have shrugged off a number of risks to the economy in recent weeks, instead bidding up stocks since the Fed signaled that it was ready to purchase unlimited bonds to stabilize key financial markets and after President Trump signed a $2 trillion economic rescue package.
That rally, a nearly 30 percent gain in the S&P 500 in March, has lifted stock prices even as company fundamentals worsened, and it came despite a darkening outlook for growth.
Mr. Powell seemed to focus investors on the risks again, a day after they heard a different concern from Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a central figure in the U.S. government’s coronavirus response. If economic interests were allowed to override public health concerns, Dr. Fauci warned, “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.”
And some influential investors have weighed in on the growing disconnect between the performance of the stock market and an ugly outlook for the American economy. On Wednesday, David Tepper, a longtime hedge fund manager, said on CNBC that he thought the market was the most overvalued it has been since 1999.
Uber says it raised $900 million to fund acquisitions.
Uber raised $900 million in a debt sale to help fund potential acquisitions, the ride-hailing company said Wednesday.
Uber is in talks to acquire Grubhub, the food-delivery service, although the deal has not yet been finalized and could still fall apart. If it goes through, it would create one giant player in food delivery as more people turn toward those services in the coronavirus pandemic.
Uber’s debt sale puts it alongside Disney, ViacomCBS and Live Nation, which have all raised cash to ride out financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Uber said it would put the proceeds toward “working capital and other general corporate purposes, which may include potential acquisitions and strategic transactions.”
Companies like Uber are trying to limit damage to their business from the coronavirus — its main ride-hailing business has cratered as people have stopped traveling — and double down on services that are growing. The food delivery business has also been highly competitive, with rivals regularly undercutting one another on delivery prices, so a deal that would unite two of the players could help reduce those pressures.
This is where Americans are shopping online now.
Online sales in the United States have surged since shelter-in-place measures shuttered brick-and-mortar stores in March. But the recent gains have not been spread evenly, new data shows.
Big and sometimes unexpected winners have emerged in several of the industries that have come to define the coronavirus economy, according to data from Earnest Research, which tracks millions of credit and debit card transactions in the United States.
More than a third of all Americans ordered groceries online for the first time over the last month, according to several surveys, and people have spent more ordering groceries online each succeeding week of the crisis. The clear winner so far has been Instacart.
Target and Walmart have been investing more heavily in grocery sales to take on the behemoth of online shopping, Amazon. Both companies recently expanded their online sales much faster than Amazon.
DoorDash, the market leader in online meal delivery, expanded its dominant position as it focused on chain restaurants and areas outside the big cities, where the sense of crisis has been less acute. Grubhub grew more slowly, in large part, analysts say, because the company had long focused on independent restaurants, which have been more likely to close during the quarantines, and on New York, where the crisis hit the hardest.
One of the few apparel companies that has been doing well, at least online, is Lululemon, thanks to its generous selection of the sweatpants and leggings that serve as particularly good work clothes when your office is in the basement.
A federal retirement fund ‘deferred’ plans to invest in Chinese stocks.
A retirement fund for more than 5.9 million current and former government employees has halted plans to invest in Chinese stocks.
The Thrift Savings Plan’s effort to diversify the international stock portion of the $593.7 billion it has in assets under management has become a flash point in an increasingly contentious relationship between the United States and China.
The board that controls the fund had for months defended its plans to increase its exposure to China, saying that it was simply seeking to diversify its investments and provide better returns for its savers.
But members of Congress, the Trump administration and outside advisers have criticized the move, saying that it would pump funds into some companies that work with the Chinese military or have been the subject of sanctions by the U.S. government.
Politicians of both parties, but particularly some in the Trump administration, have called for decoupling the Chinese and American economies, arguing that American efforts to work closely with China have strengthened its authoritarian government.
Others have criticized a lack of transparency in the Chinese financial system that could be putting American investors at risk of fraud. Chinese law restricts the company documentation that auditors can transfer out of the country, limiting their visibility to American regulators.
Clete Willems, a former Trump administration official who is now a partner at the law firm Akin Gump, said the decision “may just be the start of a broader reassessment about the risks of investing in China.”
Treasury chief tells borrowers who took small loans that they are in the clear.
The Treasury Department eased its call for all recipients of emergency small business loans to consider returning the money if they had other options and said on Wednesday that borrowers who took loans for less than $2 million would be considered to have applied in good faith.
The updated guidance is the latest shift for the Paycheck Protection Program. It comes after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned last month that businesses that had other access to capital and took small business loans could face audits and criminal prosecution. Borrowers were given until May 14 to review their loans, which are forgivable, and repay the money if they did not truly need it.
But on Wednesday, Treasury said that borrowers who took smaller loans were in the clear.
The agency decided that smaller loans likely went to businesses that did not have other access to capital and that the money would allow them to keep workers on the payroll. Scaling back its effort to claw back money will also allow the Small Business Administration to focus its auditing efforts on bigger companies that took larger loans.
Any company that took a loan larger than $2 million and seeks to have the loan forgiven will face a review by the S.B.A.
America’s job losses might be slowing.
Last week, the Labor Department’s monthly report showed that the U.S. economy in April shed a staggering 20.5 million jobs, the worst figures since the Great Depression. But a new analysis suggests that the rapid rise in unemployment may be flattening, though not for everyone.
According to an analysis of daily surveys conducted by Civis Analytics, while women, workers earning more than $100,000 and part-time workers are continuing to experience growing joblessness or no improvement, the rate of change is relatively brighter for men, full-time employees and people earning less than $50,000.
Other researchers tracking employment have also noted a slowdown in employment losses. For example, the Current Population Survey implies employment among working-age Americans fell 13.8 percent between early March and early April, while our tracker shows employment among this population fell 13.2 percent by mid-to-late April.
Because these results are cumulative, a slowdown means that fewer people are joining the ranks of the unemployed, but also that few of the workers who became unemployed in March and April are returning to work.
J.C. Penney could file for bankruptcy as soon as Friday.
J.C. Penney, the department-store chain that was founded in 1902, might file for bankruptcy as soon as Friday after skipping two interest payments on its debt in the past month, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The company is in talks to secure about $450 million in debtor-in-possession financing, which would allow it to keep operating the business, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions were confidential. The company declined to comment.
The people said that the filing date could change, and that the amount of financing was still being negotiated. It would follow last week’s bankruptcy filing from the Neiman Marcus Group as department stores struggle to navigate their businesses through the coronavirus pandemic.J. Crew also filed for bankruptcy last week. A filing from J.C. Penney, however, would be the biggest bankruptcy yet during the pandemic based on its number of locations and workers. The retailer, which is based in Plano, Texas, has 846 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico and 90,000 employees.
Southwest tries to entice travelers with a flight sale.
Southwest Airlines began a monthlong sale on Tuesday for flights between May 26 and Aug. 31 in an effort to encourage summer travel. One-way tickets range from $49 to $99, with the airline offering double frequent flier points.
Devastated carriers are struggling to fill planes as stay-at-home orders keep most people from traveling. The Transportation Security Administration said that it conducted checks on 163,205 passengers on Tuesday, compared with 2,191,387 passengers on the same day in 2019. Most planes have been flying with an average of 23 passengers.
“This promotion is designed to see if Southwest can stimulate demand among personal or leisure travelers,” said Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and former executive. “They’re trolling for adventurous souls to go out and sample the travel environment.”
Southwest, the largest domestic carrier, typically has two popular sales each year — one in June and another in October, but neither sale includes summer trips. The current sale fares don’t apply to flights on popular travel days like Fridays and Sundays or trips over the Memorial Day and Labor Day holiday weekends.
Powell says more government help may be needed to avoid a deep recession.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell delivered a stark warning on Wednesday that the United States is facing an economic hit “without modern precedent,” one that could permanently damage the economy if Congress does not provide sufficient policy support to prevent a wave of bankruptcies and prolonged joblessness.
Mr. Powell’s blunt diagnosis was the clearest signal yet that the trillions of dollars in support that policymakers have already funneled into the economy may not be enough to prevent lasting damage from a virus that has already shuttered businesses and thrown more than 20 million people out of work.
It also serves as a rejoinder to lawmakers and the Trump administration, whose discussions of additional rescue measures have run aground as Democrats unveil a dramatic wish-list and Republicans shy away from federal spending, betting instead that “reopening” the economy will quickly and dramatically lift growth.
“The recovery may take some time to gather momentum,” Mr. Powell said at a virtual event put on by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, where he lauded Congress’s early response packages and suggested that an uncertain outlook may call for more. “Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.”
Mr. Powell and his central bank colleagues are stepping into their role as economic experts and informal advisers to prod fiscal policymakers into action. They say the recovery remains “highly uncertain,” and if the policy response proves inadequate, the consequences could be long-lasting and painful.
Mr. Powell pointed out that the burden often falls on the most disadvantaged, explaining that a Fed survey set for release on Thursday will show that almost 40 percent of people who were working in February and were members of households making less than $40,000 a year had lost their jobs in March.
He also said on Wednesday that the central bank was not considering cutting interest rates below zero, adding that the Fed would instead rely on the same tools it employed during the last recession — forward guidance about the path of interest rates and asset purchases.
Bus operators, who say they were left out, are calling for emergency federal funding.
A motorcade of hundreds of buses drove around Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, part of a “rolling rally” calling for federal assistance as the industry struggles during the coronavirus pandemic. The American Bus Association and United Motorcoach Association are asking lawmakers for $15 billion in grants and loans.
“In the last stimulus bill, every form of passenger transportation was funded: airlines, Amtrak and transit, and the only form that wasn’t funded was private bus operators,” said Peter J. Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association. “The industry provides transport for 600 million people a year — as many as the airplanes do — and we were completely left out by Congress.”
More than 90 percent of the industry’s work force was laid off or furloughed because of the impact of stay-at-home orders on travel.
New rules give workers flexibility to change health plans and spending accounts.
Normally, strict rules prevent employees from changing health insurance plans in the middle of a year. But the I.R.S. is giving employers a way to let workers make changes without waiting for the usual enrollment period.
Under the new guidance, employers can let their workers drop out of their health insurance if they have another option, or sign up if they failed to earlier in the year. Workers could also be allowed to add more family members to their plan, or switch from one workplace plan to another.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.
A United Nations report Wednesday predicted that the global economy would contract by 3.2 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic. A small increase had been expected before the crisis started. The U.N. further expects 34.3 million people to fall into extreme poverty this year, with more than half of the increase happening in Africa.
Condé Nast plans to lay off nearly 100 employees, the company’s chief executive, Roger J. Lynch, announced in a memo to staff members on Wednesday. The publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker has sought to cut costs across the company as luxury sales tumble during the coronavirus pandemic. The staff reductions follow pay cuts for top executives, including Anna Wintour, the company’s artistic director, which the company announced last month. Another 100 people will be furloughed for a few months and other employees will see reduced hours.
Britain’s economy contracted by 2 percent in the first three months of 2020 compared with the previous quarter, the government reported on Wednesday, the steepest quarterly drop since the financial crisis in 2008. In March alone, the economy shrank by 5.8 percent from February, the largest drop since the Office of National Statistics began keeping monthly tallies in 1997.
Reporting was contributed by Kate Conger, Ana Swanson, Nathaniel Popper, Jeanna Smialek, Sapna Maheshwari, Alan Rappeport, Michael J. de la Merced, Stanley Reed, Ernie Tedeschi, Quoctrung Bui, Sophia June, Tariro Mzezewa, Jack Ewing, Carlos Tejada, Mohammed Hadi, Vikas Bajaj, Niraj Chokshi, Edmund Lee, Neal E. Boudette, Jane Margolies, Katie Robertson and Gregory Schmidt.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., had asked Ratcliffe about President Trump’s allegation that members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies had sought to “undermine his administration.”
“President Trump has repeatedly, and without any basis in my view, accused the hardworking men and women of the IC [intelligence community] of working to undermine his administration,” Heinrich told Ratcliffe before asking, “Do you think — do you believe that there is ‘deep state’ in the IC?”
“I don’t know what that means … I don’t know what that is,” Ratcliffe responded. Heinrich followed by asking whether it would be inappropriate or illegal to “remove, or reassign, [or] to screen or otherwise discriminate against career IC personnel for political reasons.”
Ratcliffe’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Trump and his Republican allies have repeatedly denounced the “deep state” during his term of office and accused members of law enforcement and the intelligence community of harboring bias towards him and his administration.
The issue came up again last week when internal FBI documents showed top bureau officials openly questioned whether their goal in interviewing then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in January 2017 was “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
The documents fueled suspicions that the Russia investigation was tainted by political motives and put the spotlight back on top FBI conterintelligence official Peter Strzok, who was one of the agents who interviewed Flynn. Strzok and his mistress, Lisa Page, created a media firestorm when they were removed from the FBI’s Russia investigation after it was revealed that their text messages included disparaging comments about Trump.