By Robert A. Vella
Today we’ll examine President Trump’s latest act of resentful retribution in a continuance of his authoritarian administrative purges, new political machinations in this pandemic, updates on the coronavirus crisis, mismanagement of medical supplies and more on the Strategic National Stockpile, plus other news.
Note: All textual emphases and clarifications in the following are by The Secular Jurist.
Trump fires Intelligence Community IG
US President Donald Trump has fired a senior official who first alerted Congress to a whistleblower complaint that led to his impeachment trial.
Mr Trump said he no longer had confidence in Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community.
Democrats said the president was settling scores during a national emergency caused by the coronavirus.
They also accused him of trying to undermine the intelligence community.
Last year, Mr Atkinson informed Congress of the complaint that President Trump had allegedly abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to open an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.
WASHINGTON — The top U.S. federal watchdog vowed on Saturday to continue to conduct “aggressive” independent oversight of government agencies, after President Donald Trump fired the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community late Friday night.
Michael Horowitz, chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), an independent agency in the executive branch and the inspector general at the Department of Justice, said in a statement that Michael Atkinson was known for his “integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law and independent oversight.”
The firing comes as U.S. inspectors general, who are charged with independent oversight of federal agencies, were recently tasked with broad surveillance of the government’s response to the coronavirus, including the historic $2.3 trillion fiscal package to mitigate its economic impact.
The Trump administration and Democrats remain at odds over who should qualify for paid leave amid the coronavirus pandemic with the administration issuing guidance this week that gives companies broad authority to determine which employees get the benefits.
SAN ANTONIO — President Trump has used emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic to implement the kind of strict enforcement regime at the U.S. southern border he has long wanted, suspending laws that protect minors and asylum seekers so that the U.S. government can immediately deport them or turn them away.
Wisconsin stands apart from other states in trying to hold to its April election date even though Gov. Tony Evers has issued a statewide stay-at-home order. It also comes as Wisconsin’s chief medical officer has credited the order for helping slow the rate of infections in the state.
The Democratic governor initially joined Republican leaders in seeking to hold the primary as planned on Tuesday, but he now favors an all-mail election with absentee voting well into May. Republicans maintain that Tuesday’s in-person voting should go on as planned.
The election features the Democratic presidential primary between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, but a bigger concern for Republicans is a high-stakes state Supreme Court race featuring a conservative incumbent against a liberal challenger.
Liberal groups have taken the matter to the courts, and a federal judge declined to postpone in-person voting while extending absentee voting until April 13. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Friday rejected Republicans’ appeal of that decisions.
Supply mismanagement and the Strategic National Stockpile
As the epicenter of the pandemic, with about 40% of the nation’s coronavirus cases, New York state is especially desperate for medical equipment, no matter what the tab. “We know that New York and other states are in the market at the same time, along with the rest of the world, bidding on these same items, which is clearly driving the fluctuation in costs,” budget office spokesman Freeman Klopott said in an email.
The Office of General Services, New York’s main procurement agency, declined to say which sellers were inflating prices for essential medical gear. “At this moment in time the New York State team is focused on procuring goods and services based on current market conditions,” OGS spokeswoman Heather Groll wrote in an email. “There will be time to look back and pull together info on all this, that time will be when the pandemic is over.”
In recent days, administration officials said, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which traditionally coordinates the government’s responses to disasters, has received surprise directives from the White House — including to dispatch deliveries of medical equipment to states that had not even submitted formal requests based on which governor got Mr. Trump on the telephone.
There is no set formula for how to distribute stockpiled goods in a disaster, but this crisis will place an unprecedented strain on America’s backup supply system.
Most emergencies, like weather-related disasters or chemical plant explosions, are geographically confined and don’t require HHS to make tough decisions about what is most needed where. Through state departments of emergency management, governors request assistance, which can either arrive in the form of “push packages” of ready-to-go aid that can be sent to a state within 12 hours or more customized supplies stored by government warehouses and private companies around the country.
Several states have voiced their dismay about how the stockpile is being distributed.
“The support we have received from the administration is woefully insufficient,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., told ProPublica. “I wouldn’t call it complete radio silence from federal officials, but their communications are barely flickering. … If our health workers, doctors and nurses especially, don’t have masks, or gloves, or cotton swabs, lives will be lost — full stop.”
The Strategic National Stockpile was created in 1999, and, as of April 2, was described on a Department of Health and Human Services website as “the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”
(That description was later altered to say, “The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies.” The change was made after Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, said on April 2: “The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use.” Some interpreted Kushner’s remarks to mean the federal stockpile was not meant to be used by states, which would be false.
Most of the materials in the stockpile are stored in large warehouses around the country, and where those warehouses are located, and exactly what’s in them, is not publicly disclosed.
But NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce was allowed to visit one facility in June 2016 — only months before Trump was inaugurated in January 2017. In her article about the warehouse she toured, she described the shelves as being the opposite of bare.
Dire shortages of vital medical equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile that are now hampering the coronavirus response trace back to the budget wars of the Obama years, when congressional Republicans elected on the Tea Party wave forced the White House to accept sweeping cuts to federal spending.
Among the victims of those partisan fights was the effort to keep adequate supplies of masks, ventilators, pharmaceuticals and other medical equipment on hand to respond to a public health crisis. Lawmakers in both parties raised the specter of shortchanging future disaster response even as they voted to approve the cuts.
By late February, the stockpile held just 12 million N95 respirator masks, a small fraction of what government officials say is needed for a severe pandemic. Now the emergency stash is running out of critical supplies and governors are struggling to understand the unclear procedures for how the administration is distributing the equipment.
The stockpile received a $17 billion influx in the first and third coronavirus stimulus bills that Congress passed in March. But there had not been a big boost in stockpile funding since 2009, in response to the H1N1 pandemic, commonly called swine flu.
During the Trump administration, the White House has consistently proposed cutting the CDC and the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, which took over stockpile management from the CDC. Congress approved more stockpile funding than Trump’s budget requested in every year of his administration, for a combined $1.93 billion instead of $1.77 billion, according to budget documents.
The White House budget request for 2021, delivered in February as officials were already warning about the dangerous new coronavirus, proposed holding the stockpile’s funding flat at $705 million and cutting resources for the office that oversees it.