April 14, 2020

South Dakota is one of five states — all largely rural, all headed by Republican governors — that have not issued statewide shelter-in-place orders to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. "South Dakota is not New York City," Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said earlier this month. On Monday, 57 more workers at a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total at the plant "well above 300 — and making it one of the country's largest clusters," along with Chicago's Cook County Jail and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, The Washington Post reports. South Dakota currently has 868 confirmed COVID-19 cases and six deaths in a state with fewer than 900,000 residents.

Rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the economic and medical costs of the pandemic. In justifying her decision to keep South Dakota off lockdown, Noem argued that individuals, not the state, "are primarily responsible for their safety" and "entrusted with expansive freedoms." That's not true of prisons, homeless shelters, and nursing homes, all of which are also becoming significant vectors of transmission.

"At least 2,300 long-term care facilities in 37 states have reported positive cases of COVID-19," and "more than 3,000 residents have died," USA Today reports, citing incomplete state data since the federal government isn't tracking cases in America's 15,600 nursing homes. But "nursing homes have emerged as a blind spot for COVID-19 around the world," Politico notes, and in the few countries that strictly report the figures, roughly half of COVID-19 deaths are in care homes.

Coronavirus is also spreading quickly through the homeless populations of New York City, San Francisco, and other metropolitan areas, The New York Times and Stat News detail, putting specific strains on already overburdened homeless shelters and hospitals.

Cook County Jail stands as the largest single point of infection in the U.S., though, with more than 500 people testing positive so far. Illinois and local officials are releasing hundreds of non-violent offenders from the jail, but thousands won't be released, and social distancing and frequent hand-washing aren't possible in a crowded prison. "I feel for a lot of the guys in there that can't get out of there — knowing that they're going to die in there," a released Cook County Jail inmate named Linn told NPR. Peter Weber

8:00 a.m.

Facebook is evidently now looking to minimize politics on its platform, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company hopes to "turn down the temperature."

Zuckerberg during an earnings call Wednesday announced Facebook will stop recommending political and civic groups to users, which he described as a "continuation of work we've been doing for a while to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations," Politico reports.

The social media company has long faced criticism over the amount of misinformation and polarization on its platform, with its recommendations being a frequent target of these complaints. Facebook previously said it would be putting these recommendations on pause in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, Politico notes. Additionally, Zuckerberg said Wednesday the company plans to take action to reduce the amount of politics in users' news feeds, Axios reports, but he didn't offer any further information on that effort.

"There has been a trend across society that a lot of things have become politicized and politics have had a way of creeping into everything," Zuckerberg said. "A lot of the feedback we see from our community is that people don't want that in their experience."

Zuckerberg added that if users do want to discuss politics or join political groups, "they should be able to," but "we are not serving community well to be recommending that content right now."

The company by looking to "downplay politics" on the platform was "backing away from arguments it's long made that political speech is vital to free expression," Axios wrote. The decision came after various companies have taken steps to either ban political ads or limit them in certain situations, not to mention after numerous platforms suspended former President Donald Trump, leading Axios to conclude, "The social platforms that profited massively on politics and free speech suddenly want a way out — or at least a way to hide until the heat cools." Brendan Morrow

7:56 a.m.

When former President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans rushed through the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett right before November's election, then-candidate Joe Biden promised that if he won, he would create a bipartisan commission to study how to reform the Supreme Court and federal judiciary. Now that he has been sworn in as president, he's moving forward, staffing the commission and placing it under the aegis of the White House Counsel's office, Politico reports.

The commission will be co-chaired by Bob Bauer, Biden's campaign lawyer, and Cristina Rodríguez, a Yale Law School professor and alumna of the Obama Justice Department, Politico reports. Others named to the commission include Jack Goldsmith, a Bush Justice Department official who now teaches at Harvard Law School, and Caroline Fredrickson, former president of the American Constitution Society, Politico says. The panel will likely end up with nine to 15 members.

Bipartisan commissions are the "classic Washington, D.C., punt," Politico notes, and progressives who favor adding justices to the Supreme Court — an idea Fredrickson at least seems open to — and judicial term limits are not optimistic. "Commissions are often places where ideas go to die and there is no time on the clock to reform the court," said Aaron Belkin, director of the progressive group Take Back the Court. "The entire agenda of what needs to get done is in jeopardy thanks to stolen federal courts."

The White House told Politico only that Biden "remains committed to an expert study of the role and debate over reform of the court and will have more to say in the coming weeks." Peter Weber

6:57 a.m.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) flies to Florida to raise money on Thursday, and he's making a stop at Mar-a-Lago to meet with former President Donald Trump around lunchtime, Politico reports. McCarthy reportedly asked for the meeting, his first with Trump since the Jan. 6 Capitol siege by a mob of Trump supporters, and he has been effusive about the tête-à-tête. "Kevin can't shut up about it," one Trump adviser joked to Politico.

McCarthy sees the visit as a way to smooth over their absolute "soap opera" of a relationship since the insurrection, and also as a way to inquire about Trump's political plans, Politico reports. "Unlike Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reportedly doesn't want to speak to the ex-president ever again, McCarthy believes it's in his interest to be on Trump's good side," since Trump is still widely popular with the GOP base McCarthy needs to show up in 2022.

But "Trump world is ecstatic about the visit," too, "viewing the huddle as proof of a comeback in the making," Politico adds. Trump will "give Kevin an earful" about the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him, the Trump adviser said. But McCarthy's pilgrimage is "the first solid bit of evidence that Donald Trump is still in charge of the party." Read more at Politico's Playbook. Peter Weber

5:57 a.m.

"Republicans have a Marjorie Taylor Greene problem. Again," The Associated Press reports. House GOP leaders urged voters in Georgia's 14th Congressional District to pick someone else in the primary, wary of Greene's QAnon allegiance and documented history of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim comments. After she prevailed in the primary, they pushed for her victory in the general election. She won.

Calls for Greene's ouster from the House started days after she was seated. And Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) said Wednesday he will introduce a measure to expel her, following new scrutiny of her social media history. CNN's KFILE got that ball rolling Tuesday.

Then the floodgates opened. Greene has called various deadly school shootings and the Las Vegas music festival massacre "false flag" events, questioned 9/11, and endorsed some foul QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories.

Republican leaders are, once again, appalled. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Greene's posts are "disgusting," have "no place in our party" and "should be looked into," adding that "QAnon is beyond fringe. I think it's dangerous." Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called Greene "a RINO," or Republican in Name Only. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said though a spokesman that her comments are "deeply disturbing" and he "plans to have a conversation with the congresswoman about them."

In 2019, McCarthy stripped former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of all his committee assignments after he expressed support for white supremacists, AP reports. "Greene was named this week to the House Education and Labor Committee." CNN's Erin Burnett called that assignment doubly disturbing, given Greene's dismissal of school shootings, but said McCarthy knows some of the money Greene is raising off her outrages will go to the House GOP campaign committee.

Greene issued a weak and incredible non-denial denial of her social media activity, but the "steady stream of revelations" plus "Greene's puzzling defense of herself should make Republicans wonder how long they can put up with this," Aaron Blake writes at The Washington Post. "We tend to overestimate how much a politician like that can drag down their national party, but Greene's lack of remorse and candor reinforces how much of a loose cannon she could be moving forward." Peter Weber

2:11 a.m.

There's growing skepticism that 17 Senate Republicans will vote with Democrats to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection, meaning his second impeachment trial would also end in acquittal. The GOP's legally dubious off-ramp — declaring it unconstitutional to try a former president — failed Tuesday, but 45 of the 50 Senate Republicans voted in favor of the motion. So Democrats are now looking for a Plan B to ensure that Trump is not let off essentially scot-free for the deadly Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

"Make no mistake — there will be a trial, and the evidence against the former president will be presented, in living color, for the nation and every one of us to see," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. At the same time, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he's talking with a "handful" of his GOP colleagues to see if they would support a censure resolution.

Tuesday's 55-45 vote was "completely clarifying that we're not going to get near 67," Kaine said Wednesday, adding that his resolution is "more than just a censure, saying, 'Hey, you did wrong.'" The proposal would state that the Jan. 6 attack "was an insurrection and that President Trump gave aid and comfort to the insurrectionists," language intended to invoke the 14th Amendment and bar Trump from holding federal office again.

Constitutional scholars are skeptical such a ban would be enforceable. "I worry about the cop-out of a condemnatory censure, which Senators shouldn't be led to think gets them off the hook of having to convict the former president under the Article of Impeachment," Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told The Washington Post.

Kaine and other Democrats are also floating the option of a quick trial, as short as a week, so the Senate can focus on passing President Biden's COVID-19 legislation and other priorities. Some moderate Democrats don't want to rush it, though.

"We have an obligation to get the facts, it seems to me," especially concerning Trump's personal involvement in the insurrection, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told The Associated Press. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) agreed. "This is much, much more serious than anything we've ever seen in our lifetime and it's really the purpose of having articles of impeachment in the Constitution," he said. "We want to make sure that no one ever does this again, never thinks about doing this again — sedition and insurrection." Peter Weber

1:44 a.m.

Now that Navy veteran Miyoko Toy has moved into her apartment, she's looking forward to everything that comes along with having a place of her own.

"I'm excited to have keys," she said. "I'm excited to have a bed. I'm excited to be able to get up from my nap and make myself something to eat. It means everything to me."

Toy is the 1,500th homeless veteran in Southern California's San Bernardino County to receive housing through the Homeless Veterans Initiative. Launched five years ago, this collaborative effort between the county and local social service organizations identifies homeless veterans and helps them develop housing plans before getting them moved. For some, they might need prolonged rental assistance, while others need short-term help.

After leaving the Navy, Toy bounced from living situation to living situation. She learned about the San Bernardino County Homeless Veterans Initiative through a women's group for vets, and earlier this month, moved into an apartment. When she walked through the door, Toy jumped for joy and began clapping, looking around to see her new furniture and cleaning supplies. Now that she's settled, Toy said she is thrilled to have "a place to bring my family home to and share space with them." Catherine Garcia

1:06 a.m.

Haifa is home to Israel's largest population of Holocaust survivors, and Yad Rosa is working around the clock to help them make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

Shimon Sabag started Yad Rosa 20 years ago, and over the last 10 months, has had to completely change the way the charity helps these elderly survivors. "This is the moment of truth," Sabag told The Washington Post. "Holocaust survivors see the finish line, but emotionally they are collapsing."

There are 192,000 registered Holocaust survivors in Israel, and even before the pandemic, many were struggling — a quarter live below the poverty line, the Post reports, and many of the charities tasked with offering assistance are underfunded. The first Israeli to die of COVID-19 was an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and since then, roughly 5,300 survivors have tested positive for the virus and 900 have died, the Israeli government said.

A Bar-Ilan University study found that for many survivors who witnessed diseases like tuberculosis and dysentery sweep through concentration camps, the isolation they are now experiencing is making them remember the past. "They're returning back to memories of the ghetto, of the camps, of death," psychiatrist Isabella Greenberg told the Post. "Some of my patients feel that this is like Auschwitz."

Yad Rosa has changed its services to better assist survivors feeling especially vulnerable now. For those who do not want to travel by bus, volunteers drive them to their appointments and to get the COVID-19 vaccine — they've already helped more than 1,500 get the shot. Dozens of volunteers man a call center, where they check in on survivors to see if they need food, medicine, or just a chat. Contractors have made repairs in the homes of survivors, and more than 2,000 people receive daily food deliveries.

Renate Kaufmann, 83, survived the Holocaust in Germany by spending two years hiding in secret spaces. Yad Rosa recently delivered her a wheelchair, and she told the Post she looks forward to being able to go outside again one day, but until then, she must remain patient, just like she was decades ago. "Who is safe?" she said. "There is no safe place in this world." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

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