July 8, 2020

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Tuesday she and other coronavirus task force members did not expect the rapid resurgence of the virus as states started allowing businesses to reopen — including, in some states, bars and nightclubs. "None of us really anticipated the amount of community spread that began in really our 18-to-35-year-old age group," she said in a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council. "This is an age group that was so good and so disciplined through March and April. But when they saw people out and about on social media, they all went out and about."

The U.S. reached 3 million coronavirus cases on Tuesday, 500,000 of which were logged since June 26. "People under 40 have made up a significant portion of new cases recorded in states with recent outbreaks, a sign of how the virus has spread in bars, restaurants, and offices that have reopened," The New York Times reports. Ohio joined Texas, California, and other states in mandating mask wearing in public, and several hard-hit areas are reclosing bars and other businesses that foster close human contact.

At least six states registered new coronavirus case records Tuesday — Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, California, and Hawaii — and Texas, Arizona, and Mississippi hit new highs for COVID-19 deaths. The death rate continues to decline, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, said Tuesday that taking comfort from that lagging indicator is "a false narrative." Peter Weber

August 14, 2020

The Trump administration has found yet another way to reduce the number of immigrants who can claim asylum.

Even though federal asylum rules generally state that any migrant fearing harm or mistreatment in their home country can apply for asylum protections in the U.S. within one year of arriving, no matter how they entered the country, a new draft rule would block asylum-seekers from protections if they arrived via Mexico or Canada, BuzzFeed News reported Friday.

If implemented, any migrant who had been in Mexico or Canada in the last two weeks would be treated as a security threat. The draft rule is described as necessary to curb the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.; the Trump administration previously blocked some green cards and visas with the same explanation. The new rule would apply to both migrants who present themselves at ports of entry and those who enter the U.S. without authorization.

"The Trump administration is once again using COVID-19 as a pretext to accomplish their long-sought goal of destroying the United States' asylum system," American Immigration Council policy analyst Aaron Reichlin-Melnick told BuzzFeed.

The draft rule also strengthens previous restrictions, experts say. An ongoing policy cites public health and the pandemic to allow border agents to turn migrants away. If that policy is blocked by a federal court, the Mexico-and-Canada rule could allow the same rule to effectively continue. "By layering their policy change with multiple bureaucratic tools," said Migration Policy Institute analyst Sarah Pierce, "they are doing everything they can to insulate the asylum shutdown against legal challenges." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Summer Meza

August 14, 2020

The United States Postal Service is warning that delays could prevent voters' mail-in ballots from being counted this November in almost every state.

Reports emerged on Thursday that officials in Pennsylvania had been warned by the USPS that for voters who request their ballots close to the October deadline, there's a risk that the ballots will end up being delivered too late for them to count. But this is evidently a concern throughout almost all of the country, as The Washington Post on Friday reported that the USPS has "sent detailed letters to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted."

Among the states that were warned that their deadlines are "incongruous" with how quickly the Postal Service can actually deliver the ballots to election officials were reportedly Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida, three crucial swing states that could decide the election.

"The Postal Service is asking election officials and voters to realistically consider how the mail works," a USPS spokesperson said.

These reports come as President Trump continues to claim without evidence that the use of mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic will result in widespread voter fraud and after he suggested in an interview this week that he's blocking additional funding for the USPS due to his desire to prevent universal mail-in voting this November.

In Pennsylvania, officials are trying to move the deadline to allow for three extra days to count mail-in votes. Yet the Post writes that the "deadlines in many other states have not been or cannot be adjusted." Additionally, the Post reports that the "threat of ballot rejection because of missed delivery deadlines may be highest for voters in 40 states" with almost 160 million registered voters. Brendan Morrow

August 14, 2020

R. Kelly's manager has been charged after he allegedly threatened a theater to stop it from showing a documentary on the sexual abuse allegations against the disgraced R&B star.

Prosecutors in New York on Friday said they charged Donnell Russell, Kelly's manager, for making a "threatening phone call to a theater in Manhattan to prevent" a screening of Surviving R. Kelly in December 2018.

The Lifetime docuseries detailed the sexual abuse allegations against Kelly, who is in jail while awaiting trial on federal sex crime charges. Russell contacted a theater employee and claimed "that there was a person in the theater with a gun prepared to shoot up the screening," forcing the event to be canceled canceled, prosecutors said. Some of Kelly's alleged victims were in attendance.

"Threats of gun violence aimed at intimidating and silencing victims of sexual abuse are unlawful as well as unacceptable," Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said. "We are committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting such crimes.”

Earlier this week, prosecutors charged three men connected to Kelly for their alleged "efforts to illegally influence pending federal cases" by trying to silence his accusers. One of the men was Russell, who prosecutors said threatened to release sexually explicit photos of one of Kelly's alleged victims unless she withdrew a lawsuit against him. Brendan Morrow

August 14, 2020

A government watchdog has found that two top Department of Homeland Security officials are not eligible for their jobs — and Democrats want them to immediately "resign in disgrace."

The independent Government Accountability Office on Friday said that Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, his deputy, were appointed to their positions in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act, and the two top officials are "serving under an invalid order of succession," The Washington Post reports.

The watchdog explains that when former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in 2019, the official who became acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, "had not been designated in the order of succession to serve," and since "the incorrect official assumed the title of acting secretary at that time, subsequent amendments to the order of succession made by that official were invalid."

House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Committee on Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) in a statement called for the officials to resign, while Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) also said Wolf and Cuccinelli "must resign in disgrace" or be removed from office.

"There are also major questions about the legality of their actions over the last 16 months that the DHS Office of the Inspector General must swiftly review," Castro added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security in a statement per the Post said "we wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO's baseless report and plan to issue a formal response to this shortly." Brendan Morrow

August 14, 2020

Former President Barack Obama isn't happy with all the changes afoot at the United States Postal Service.

In an interview on Friday, Obama urged lawmakers to fight against what he called President Trump's attempt to "actively kneecap the Postal Service," reports NBC News. Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed mail-in voting is unsafe, and on Thursday said he didn't want more funding for the USPS so that universal mail-in voting couldn't be set up before November's election.

Obama said action was necessary, both by members of Congress and citizens, to "protect the integrity" of the presidential election.

"What we've never seen before is a president say, 'I'm going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to encourage voting, and I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it.' That's sort of unheard of, right?" said Obama. He also accused Republicans of trying "to discourage people's votes from counting" with other measures like gerrymandering and voter identification restrictions.

The Trump administration recently installed major Trump donor Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General, and his campaign has sued several states' efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic.

"The thing I'm most worried about," said Obama, is "how do we protect the integrity of the election process? How do we make sure that people's votes are counted? How do we police and monitor how state officials are setting up polling places and ensuring that every vote is counted?" He said despite previous Republican efforts to alter voting processes, Trump's attacks on USPS are "unique to modern history." Summer Meza

August 14, 2020

As reports suggest numerous changes within the United States Postal Service could hinder its ability to process a flood of mail-in ballots this fall, it appears USPS officials created a plan to reduce mail sorting capacity.

Vice News' Motherboard reported Thursday that USPS has removed several mail sorting machines without a clear explanation to postal worker unions. In a follow-up report Friday, Vice reports the removals were part of a larger-scale plan from USPS officials, quite literally titled "Equipment Reduction." The plan proposed removing 15-20 percent of sorting machines across the country, which workers say would reduce processing capacities and force more mail to be hand-sorted, possibly causing consequential delays.

A USPS spokesperson said the Post Office "routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary," and said it was merely "adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes." But Vice writes that the "equipment reduction" plan made no mention of moving machines, just eliminating them. Sources even said "they have personally witnessed the machines, which cost millions of dollars, being destroyed or thrown in the dumpster," says Vice. "This will slow mail processing," one union official said.

After President Trump said he didn't want to give Democrats requested funding that would help expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic, lawmakers are keeping a close eye on USPS changes that could lead to fewer votes being counted in time for the presidential election. A group of senators urged Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to protect ballot processing. "Removing 20 percent of the Postal Service's sorting and processing equipment looks like another part of [Trump's] plan to bulldoze a vital American institution just to cling to power," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). As Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) put it, "this is insane." Read more at Vice News. Summer Meza

August 14, 2020

Robert Trump, President Trump's younger brother, has been hospitalized in New York, ABC News reports.

The White House on Friday confirmed that Trump's 72-year-old brother is in the hospital, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also saying that the two "have a very good relationship."

Further details were not provided by the White House, though ABC cited sources as saying that Robert Trump is "very ill." He was previously hospitalized in June and spent more than a week in the intensive care unit. At the time, The Daily Beast reported that he was "being treated for a serious condition."

The president is reportedly expected to visit his brother in the hospital on Friday. Brendan Morrow

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