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Coronavirus secretary

HHS Secretary Azar says Nov. 1 coronavirus vaccine deadline has ‘nothing to do with elections’ – CNBC

Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar wears a face mask while attending a press briefing about coronavirus testing in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 11, 2020 in Washington, DC.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar insisted Thursday that the government’s Nov. 1 deadline for states to set up coronavirus vaccine distribution sites has nothing to do with the presidential election two days later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked governors and health departments to prepare to distribute a vaccine as soon as November. In a letter dated Aug. 27, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said states will soon receive permit applications from medical supply company McKesson, which HHS tapped to help distribute the vaccine. He said they may need to waive some licensing and permit requirements that could delay the process.

The deadline raised concerns among public health experts and scientists that approval of a vaccine will be politically motivated and the White House may be pressuring regulators to get a vaccine to the market ahead of the presidential election on Nov. 3.

“It has nothing to do with elections. This has to do with delivering safe, effective vaccines to the American people as quickly as possible and saving people’s lives,” Azar said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” “Whether it’s Oct. 15, whether it’s Nov. 1, whether it’s Nov 15, it’s all about saving lives but meeting the FDA standards of safety and efficacy.”

He said “career people at CDC” came up with the deadline, indicating that political appointees such as himself weren’t involved.

“Nobody involved in this process is ever going to compromise on making sure that a product someone puts in their body is safe and effective,” he said.

Azar said the deadline was made by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and other CDC staff working on vaccine distribution planning. He said any vaccine data will be reviewed by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board, an independent group of experts who monitor patient safety and treatment data. 

“We need to be ready for all contingencies and that’s why the CDC is doing this,” he said.  

U.S. health officials have been accelerating the development of vaccine candidates by investing in multiple stages of research even though doing so could be for naught if the vaccine ends up not being effective or safe.

The U.S., as part of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, has already invested billions of dollars in six potential vaccines, including from drug companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which entered phase three trials. Data on at least one of the trials could come as soon as November, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.

Earlier this week, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the agency is prepared to bypass the full federal approval process in order to make a Covid-19 vaccine available as soon as possible.

Insisting the agency wasn’t being pressured by President Donald Trump to fast track a vaccine, Hahn said an emergency authorization could be appropriate before phase three clinical trials are completed if the benefits outweigh the risks.

U.S. and international health officials have said the U.S. needs to prepare for vaccine distribution now, including deciding who will get the vaccine first and how. 

On Tuesday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a draft proposal for distributing a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. if and when one is approved for public use.

The vaccine would be distributed in four phases, with health-care workers and vulnerable Americans, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, getting it first, according to the group. The report was requested by the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.

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Acting secretary

Acting DHS secretary hits back at Portland mayor’s ‘completely irresponsible’ claim that feds are ‘escalati… – Fox News

Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf slammed Portland’s mayor and his “completely irresponsible” comment that members of his department and other federal agents are “sharply escalating the situation” in the city.

“The facts don’t lie and the facts are that these violent anarchists and extremists were violent well before DHS surged federal assets into Portland,” Wolf told “Fox & Friends” on Monday, the morning after the 53rd consecutive night of protests in Oregon’s largest city.

Over the weekend rioters broke into the Portland Police Association building and set it on fire, as demonstrations over the death of George Floyd intensified for another night, according to Portland Police.

President Trump has denounced the violent demonstrations in Portland and the Trump administration has enlisted federal agents, including the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group, to protect federal property.

The unrest had frustrated Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, and other local officials who had said a small group of violent activists was drowning out the message of peaceful protesters. Wheeler also said the presence of federal law enforcement in Portland was exacerbating the situation.

Wheeler said Friday, “Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city.”

“The words and actions from President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have shown that this is an attack on our democracy,” Wheeler added.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Wheeler doubled down on his statements.

“The president has a complete misunderstanding of cause and effect,” Wheeler said. “What’s happening here is we have dozens, if not hundreds of federal troops descending upon our city and what they’re doing is they are sharply escalating the situation. Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism.”

“We haven’t asked them here. In fact we want them to leave,” he added, calling the intervention, which he said is “a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government” and the Trump administration, “a direct threat to our democracy.”

Wheeler went on to say, “We’re all telling the Trump administration to stop the rhetoric, take these people out of our city, they are not helping us, they are hurting us.”

HUCKABEE SLAMS OREGON GOVERNOR

In response, Wolf said, “I believe it’s a completely irresponsible comment.”

“What we know is, before July Fourth, where we saw an escalation of violence in Portland, before that time there was violence ongoing and DHS had very few officers in the city,” he explained.

“At the end of the day we’re going to protect the courthouse and we’re going to protect our law enforcement officers there,” he went on to say,

Wolf pointed out that there have been “over 50 nights of violent activity targeting federal facilities and federal law enforcement officers,” and added that “it needs to stop.”

“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities,” he continued. “We are not escalating, we are protecting … federal facilities.”

He noted that “it’s our job” to protect federal property.

“It’s what Congress told us to do time and time again and so we’re going to do that,” Wolf said. “We’re going to investigate and we’re going to hold those accountable. We’re going to arrest them and hold those accountable that are doing this destruction.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported last week that some agents had been driving around in unmarked vans and snatching protesters from streets, not near federal property, without identifying themselves.

Tensions also escalated after an officer with the Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head earlier this month, critically injuring him.

Responding to criticism, Wolf said “local leaders in Portland have fostered this environment that allows” people to “attack the courthouse” and do “violent” and “destructive” acts “night after night after night.”

“They congregate around midnight and they go until about 4:00 to 4:30 a.m. every single night [for] over 50 nights, while the Portland leaders there do nothing about it,” Wolf said.

He stressed that DHS officers and other federal agents are protecting federal property and as they come across people performing criminal acts, “we’re going to investigate and we’re going to arrest them and we have the authority to do that.”

“We’re not trying to escalate, we’re trying to hold those folks accountable,” he explained. “What we’re not going to do is allow them to attack a courthouse and then simply step across the street on to city property and say you can’t touch me. That’s not how this works.”

Wolf noted that “almost all of our activity has taken place in the one, two or three blocks around that courthouse and will continue to do so.”

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“There are other parts of city and other parts of Portland that are having destructive acts taking place. DHS is not anywhere near that,” Wolf said. “We’re focused on protecting federal facilities, that is our mission and we’re going to continue to do that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Defense secretary

Defense Secretary Esper, In Careful Exchange, Denies Being Briefed On ‘Bounties’ – NPR

Defense Secretary Mark Esper (left) and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify Thursday before a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper (left) and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify Thursday before a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper never received a briefing about alleged Russian practices against U.S. troops in Afghanistan that included the term “bounty,” he told Congress on Thursday.

Esper said so in an answer to a carefully worded question from Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who appeared to be aware about how to cue Esper, potentially from the lawmaker’s own awareness of the still-secret underlying intelligence about the Russian allegations.

“To the best of my recollection, I have not received a briefing that included the word ‘bounty,’ ” Esper said.

He and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vowed they are working to ensure American forces in Afghanistan are as well-equipped and well-protected as possible and they suggested the reports about alleged bounties paid by Russian intelligence to Taliban insurgents still aren’t confirmed.

Turner also asked Esper whether, if he had been told about “bounties” specifically, he would have taken action.

Yes, he said.

“If it was a credible report, a credible, corroborated report, that used those words, certainly it would have been brought to my attention by chain of command, by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others, for action. We would have taken upon that action an interagency effort to make sure we addressed it,” Esper said.

Experts Say Intel Should Have Reached Trump On Russian Bounty Program

Neither Esper nor Milley appeared to dispute that some underlying activity might be playing out in Afghanistan, but they both presented the situation as one still unresolved or requiring further investigation.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of all that,” Milley said.

Another Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, suggested that she and other lawmakers had been briefed about the alleged bounties on Thursday and asked the witnesses to restate their commitment to protecting American forces serving abroad.

“You have a thousand percent commitment,” Milley said.

Esper revealed another clue about the origins of the bounty allegations in a separate answer to a question about whether the Defense Department was responsible for assessing that bounties have been paid to Afghan insurgents.

The defense secretary said this: “It was not produced by a DOD intelligence agency” — which rules out a number of big organizations, including the intelligence components of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency and perhaps the National Security Agency. The NSA is structured organizationally as a support agency to the Pentagon.

Esper said he’d first learned about the allegations in February in an “intelligence piece of paper” — perhaps a reference to a reported classified CIA bulletin that has been described by The New York Times.

Trump Calls Bounty Report A 'Hoax' Despite Administration's Briefing Of Congress

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee sought to defend President Trump on Thursday and puncture the criticism that his administration bungled the discovery of the alleged bounty practices.

In their telling, officials continue to assess unreliable reports and that’s why the matter was never singled out for the president in an in-person presentation.

Trump has called the alleged bounty practices a “hoax,” and the White House hasn’t said it’ll take any action against Russia in retaliation for whatever is taking place on the ground in Afghanistan.

Congress Unites To Demand Answers From Trump On Russian Bounties In Afghanistan

The underlying intelligence has not become public.

A number of press reports, however, including those led by The New York Times, have described a broad range of evidence, including electronic wire transfers and personal comments by Taliban insurgents, confirming that Russia offered monetary incentives to insurgents for targeting Western troops.

Critics have faulted Trump for creating a process inside his administration in which he reportedly isn’t given pertinent intelligence because it might upset him or in which aides effectively bury unpleasant material in written documents that Trump doesn’t read.

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said the presence or absence of a specific term in official briefing materials “proves nothing — what matters is the substance.”

Also on Thursday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., asked Esper in a letter whether the Defense Department is investigating if any American deaths in Afghanistan may have been linked with the alleged Russian bounty practices.

Her letter alluded to the families of such fallen troops, often denoted with a gold star, and the Russian military intelligence agency that has been connected with the practice, the GRU.

“It is unacceptable that to date, the Trump administration appears to be ignoring a matter of great importance to Gold Star family members whose loved ones were killed while serving in Afghanistan: Were any U.S. troop casualties in Afghanistan connected with the alleged GRU bounty payments to Taliban-linked militants?” Duckworth asked. “Gold Star families deserve an answer to this question.”

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Labor secretary

Labor secretary reacts to ‘terrific’ June jobs report, says coronavirus task force must have ‘ongoing role’ – Fox News

Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia touted the June jobs report numbers as “good news all around” on “Your World” Thursday before vowing, “we’re not done.”

“The job growth that we saw for June was just so strong, Neil, and so much better than was being predicted,” Scalia told host Neil Cavuto. “You know, I think the projection was gonna be three million jobs added. We added nearly five … it was a terrific number, one we should be very happy about.”

TRUMP TOUTS ‘HISTORIC’ JUNE JOBS REPORT

Earlier Thursday, Trump lauded the “historic numbers” in the report, which saw the nation’s unemployment level drop to 11.1 percent as employers added 4.8 million jobs in June. Nearly eight million jobs have been restored to the economy since the beginning of May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Biden responded Thursday, by saying that a million more Americans “would still have their job if Donald Trump had done his job. Many of the jobs that have now come back should have never been lost in the first place.”

Scalia answered that criticism by defending Trump’s coronavirus response.

“The president’s response was quick,” he said. “You remember, when he moved to stop people coming in from China, he was criticized for having moved so swiftly and strongly to address that. And then we had this extraordinary series of bills passed in March, including the CARES Act, which created the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses keep workers on payroll.

“I think that the president’s swift response and the bipartisan way in which he got things done are in fact, part of the reason that we’re coming back quickly.”

Scalia also responded to a call by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., to disband the White House coronavirus task force on th grounds that Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx are undermining the president’s economic recovery.

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“Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx continue to contradict many of President Trump’s stated goals and actions for returning to normalcy as we know more about the COVID-19 outbreak,” Biggs said in a statement Thursday. “This is causing panic that compromises our economic recovery. We can protect our most vulnerable from the COVID-19 outbreak while still protecting lives and livelihoods of the rest of the population. It’s time for the COVID-19 task force to be disbanded so that President Trump’s message is not mitigated or distorted.”

“I think that there are valuable discussions in the task force,” Scalia said in response to Biggs’ statement. “You know, I joined the task force a few weeks ago as we began to focus more on the reopening, but we do see hot spots that the vice president has been visiting the last couple of days that the task force is focused on. And there is an ongoing role for the expertise the task force is bringing to bear.”

Fox News’ Paul Steinhause and Allie Raffa contributed to this report.

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Press secretary

Press secretary claims Juneteenth is a ‘meaningful day’ to Trump but others see racist play – CNN

(CNN)White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday that President Donald Trump will resume campaign rallies on Juneteenth, a holiday marking the emancipation of slaves, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city with a history of a racial massacre. She claimed Trump will “share some of the progress that has been made” for black Americans — but that explanation is being rejected by many African American leaders.

“The African American community is very near and dear to his heart. At these rallies he often shares the great work he has done for minority communities,” McEnany said, citing criminal justice reform and funding for historically black colleges and universities. “He’s working on rectifying injustices … So, it’s a meaningful day to him, and it’s a day where wants to share some of the progress that’s been made as we look forward and more that needs to be done.”
But given Trump’s history of racist statements, including the birther movement, many instead see a call out to rally white supremacists.
Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is widely viewed as a top contender to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, blasted Trump’s decision to hold the rally there on Juneteenth.
“This isn’t just a wink to white supremacists — he’s throwing them a welcome home party,” she tweeted Thursday.
Harris has been critical of Trump’s posture on race, frequently saying he’s unfit to be president because he doesn’t understand the racial turmoil engulfing the nation.
Other Democratic leaders chimed in to slam the President for holding the rally at the site that bore a horrific act of communal racial violence 99 years ago.
Texas congressman and Congressional Black Caucus member Al Green tweeted: “Trump rally with rebel flags (a symbol of slavery and racism) in Tulsa, OK (the place of #TulsaMassacre) on Juneteenth (a day of emancipation recognition) is more than a slap in the face to African Americans; it is overt racism from the highest office in the land. #RejectRacism.”
While the President has said he sympathizes with peaceful protesters marching after Floyd’s death, he has a history of stoking racial animus, including calling some protesters “thugs” and threatened to deploy the military to “dominate” looters.
He won’t apologize for taking out ads in the 1980s calling for the return of the death penalty aimed at five teenagers of color, wrongly accused of raping a jogger and pressured into giving false confessions, known as the Central Park Five. Last year, he implied in the series of racist tweets that four congresswomen of color weren’t American and sarcastically suggested “they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” And he defended the protesters opposed to the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying the group, which contained white nationalists, included some “fine people.”
The Tulsa rally, Trump’s first since March 2, comes amid a national reckoning on systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police officers, and a pandemic disproportionately impacting minority communities from both health and economic perspectives.
In 1921, Tulsa was the site of a massacre of hundreds of African Americans during racial unrest in the historic section of the city known as “Black Wall Street.”
Once considered one of the most affluent and flourishing African American community in the country, the district of Greenwood enjoyed more than 300 black-owned businesses, including luxury hotels, theaters, doctors and a pharmacist. Initial reports of the attack by a white mob, which looted and burned businesses to the ground, said it took the lives of 36 people. But historians now believe as many as 300 died, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale defended the Juneteenth rally date tweeting: “As the Party of Lincoln, Republicans are proud of what Juneteenth represents and the Emancipation Proclamation.”
But of course his celebration of emancipation comes as Trump vowed to keep Army bases named after Confederate commanders.
McEnany continued Thursday to make an illogical argument defending the President’s decision rejecting renaming 10 US military bases named after Confederate leaders, claiming Thursday that the bases are defined by people who serve there and not those they are named after.
“If you change the name, what you are saying to the men and women who left those forts, who died for this country in many cases, you are telling them that the institution they left was fundamentally and inherently racist because of the name that is on it. The President doesn’t stand for that proposition, he wants to respect our military,” she said.
Pressed by CNN’s Joe Johns on the fact that these bases are named for 10 individuals who betrayed their country, McEnany said: “Where the President stands is he believes these bases are most notably defined by the heroes within it, by the acts that they did in winning two world wars, defeating fascism across the globe. That’s what these bases stand for not the names on them. So, he doesn’t want to change the names, he’s vehemently opposed to that.”

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secretary Treasury

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Fed Chairman Powell to face Senate grilling on stimulus programs – CNN

Washington (CNN)Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will give their first report on the economic stimulus programs implemented by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act when they testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday.

The hearing comes on the heels of a report from the new Congressional Oversight Commission that found the Treasury Department has spent little of the $500 billion Congress specifically appropriated for lending to businesses and state and local governments. That includes $46 billion for the airline industry, none of which has been lent so far.
Congress passed the CARES Act aid package about two months ago. It was meant to help support the economy and help people pay their bills as stay-at-home orders shuttered businesses. More than 36 million people have lost their jobs since the middle of March.
Powell and Mnuchin could face questions on the small business lending program, the direct stimulus payments Treasury is sending out to about 150 million Americans, as well as the central bank’s Main Street lending program for small and mid-sized businesses.
Lawmakers are currently considering changing some parts of the small business program, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. The loans are forgivable as long as 75% of the money is spent on payroll. But business owners are having trouble bringing workers back before the eight-week deadline. A bill passed by Democrats in the House on Friday would extend the time period to 24 weeks, but the proposal has little chance of passing the Senate.
The Paycheck Protection Program — which operates on a first-come, first-served basis — also drew criticism as some large companies received loans while mom-and-pop shops were kept waiting.
Some of them, like Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers, have given the money back.
Mnuchin is expected to tell the Senate committee that 4.2 million small business loans have been made for a total of more than $530 billion, according to his prepared testimony.
He will also say that 140 million stimulus payments have been sent directly to Americans, for a total of $240 billion.

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Press secretary

WH press secretary calls out Dems who say Fauci was ‘blocked’ from testifying in House: A ‘publicity stunt’ – Fox News

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White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany responded Saturday to questions as to why White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci was supposedly “blocked” from testifying before the House next week.

“In this case, [Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.] actually made several calls to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who I just spoke with, and the chief of staff repeatedly asked what the subject matter of the hearing would be,” McEnany said on “America’s Newsroom HQ.”

“Besides giving vague responses, she never gave too much detail as to what the actual subject matter would be other than it being a subcommittee for HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] funding, which would have been a rather odd fit for Dr. Fauci being that he’s at NIH [the National Institutes of Health], which is a subdivision of Secretary [Alex] Azar’s HHS. So when we pressed for details as to why Dr. Fauci, in particular, was the right person for this testimony in this hearing, those details were never provided.”

TRUMP: ‘I DON’T AGREE’ WITH FAUCI OVER US TESTING CAPABILITIES TO CURB CORONAVIRUS

A House Appropriations Committee spokesman also confirmed that the White House had prevented Fauci from testifying as a witness during a subcommittee hearing on the COVID-19 response scheduled for next week.

The White House called such a testimony “counterproductive” in the heat of the pandemic.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

Anchor Eric Shawn asked McEnany about the news that Democrats replaced Fauci with Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“That’s their decision. But they were not acting in good faith with the administration here,” she said. “Beyond that, I’d also note where the Senate gave us their plans to social distance and how to do this safely. The House has yet to do that. So they’re not acting in good faith. And this really was a publicity stunt on the part of Democrats saying that the White House blocked Dr. Fauci because that wasn’t the case.”

President Trump on Saturday tweeted that Fauci would testify before the Senate “very soon.”

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