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Anti-vaxx politicians under fire as coronavirus spreads – POLITICO




David Zuckerman, the lieutenant governor of Vermont, is an eccentric longtime figure in state politics — a ponytail-sporting organic farmer and Bernie Sanders protege who has proudly fought against government-mandated vaccinations.

But the arrival of the coronavirus has suddenly put Zuckerman on the defensive in his campaign for governor this year: Amid the worsening pandemic, one of his top Democratic opponents is calling out his anti-vaxxer views as dangerous, and attempting to make them politically toxic.

“In moments like this, we see just how critical it is that we support vaccines and make them as available as possible,” said Rebecca Holcombe, the state’s former education secretary who is challenging Zuckerman for the Democratic nomination in the August primary to take on popular Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott. “It’s scary that anyone in public office or seeking public office would cast doubt about the value of vaccines. It’s unbelievable this is even up for debate.”

Zuckerman shot back that Holcombe is trying to use a public health crisis to score political points.

“The fact that any political campaign is trying to use this moment for political opportunism is unconscionable,” he told POLITICO. “Right now, my primary focus is to disseminate important health information about the virus and how to keep Vermonters, their families and our community safe…When the COVID-19 vaccine is available for the coronavirus it should be free for all and universally accessible.”

The fight in Vermont’s Democratic gubernatorial primary sets up a larger test of how mainstream the “anti-vaxxer” movement has become on the left, and whether the coronavirus pandemic could make it politically untenable even in liberal bastions.

Anti-vaccine advocacy is a growing force in American politics and around the globe as formerly fringe activists have developed a wide reach across social media platforms. Other candidates who oppose mandatory vaccinations are running for office, and some are winning, with support from large and well-funded advocacy groups.

Recently-ousted Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has said that mandatory vaccines are un-American. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said parents should be able to decide whether or not to vaccinate their children. With backing by the group Texans for Vaccine Choice as well as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, libertarian Susanna Dokupil is making another run for the state legislature, primarying one of the most vocally pro-vaccine Republicans in Austin.

But the movement has had even more success in blocking pro-vaccine legislation, defeating efforts in New Jersey, California and other states that would have eliminated exemptions to immunization.

Zuckerman, 48, has faced fierce criticism from Republican opponents in past races for his position on vaccinations, yet still won. He is seen as the frontrunner in an August primary for the Democratic nomination, though Scott is favored to win reelection. But Holcombe is betting that the anxiety surrounding coronavirus will make the issue more salient and perhaps will force a reckoning with the anti-vaxx left. That movement includes several high-profile celebrities along with former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, a vocal skeptic of mandatory vaccinations, campaigned for Sanders after she dropped out of the race.

Last year, the World Health Organization labeled what it called “vaccine hesitancy” one of the top 10 threats to global health, citing a 30% increase in measles cases worldwide. Vaccine skepticism is often tied to populist political movements on the right and the left. It’s part of a bigger surge of anti-establishment anger around the world — including in the U.S., where less than half the population gets vaccinated against the seasonal flu, which has killed tens of thousands in the past year alone.

Despite past blowback for his positions, Zuckerman has remained firm in his opposition to mandatory vaccinations. He was called a “hero” by the co-founder of a Vermont “vaccine choice” group during his 2016 bid for lieutenant governor.

In 2015, while serving in the state Senate, Zuckerman strongly opposed a bill that repealed the “philosophical exemption” to vaccinations which ultimately passed. And in a 2018 debate while running for reelection, he defended his past positions by arguing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has financial connections with the pharmaceutical industry that made him skeptical of its recommendations.

“The CDC’s infectious disease control board actually has a number of conflicts of interests,” he argued. “And so yes, like many, I do sometimes question when government agencies are a bit too infused with corporate influence with respect to some of the outcomes and decisions they make.”

Yet Zuckerman has thrived politically, and some Vermont Democratic officials speculate he could someday succeed Sanders, a longtime ally, in the Senate.

Sanders’ presidential campaign declined to comment on Zuckerman, but one aide noted that Sanders supports mandatory vaccinations with “very limited exceptions.” The aide said “there are some health exceptions“ but declined to provide further details on which exceptions he supports.

Many in the so-called “anti-vaxxer” community have tried in recent years to make their position more politically palatable by arguing that while they believe vaccines are effective, they are opposed to the government requiring them. Zuckerman has taken a similar messaging approach. In the 2018 debate, Zuckerman said “the science behind vaccines is sound, I think vaccines do good for our communities, my daughter is vaccinated. But it’s a question of whether government should be forcing that onto individuals.”

Public health experts say such arguments put vulnerable people at risk. Even before the recent coronavirus pandemic, several states had been moving to eliminate religious and other exemptions for childhood vaccinations, as measles and other diseases have resurged in recent years.

“That’s a dangerous message, that everyone should decide for themselves,” said Lois Privor-Dumm, a senior researcher on global vaccine policy at Johns Hopkins University. “If [people who forego vaccines] want to keep themselves quarantined all the time, that’s one thing. But that’s not what happens in life. So it’s not appropriate for candidates to go against all the public health experts out there.”

While campaigning in 2016 the Republican primary, Donald Trump also argued without evidence there is a correlation between vaccines and autism, a position which drew rebuke from the medical and scientific community as well as fellow candidate Ben Carson, a brain surgeon who now serves as his secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

As president, however, Trump shifted his position. In response to a number of Measles outbreaks in 2019, Trump told parents that their children “have to get the shots. The vaccinations are so important.”

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The Atlantic Politics Daily: The Other Way American Cities Will Suffer – The Atlantic



It’s Wednesday, April 1. Nevada and Florida announced stay-at-home guidelines today, with the White House now projecting anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., even with social distancing and mitigation efforts.

In today’s newsletter: How American cities will suffer, even with a $2-trillion dollar federal relief plan. Plus: Why everyone is confused about the effectiveness of wearing face masks outside.



(Getty Images / The Atlantic)

How will cities avoid bankruptcy?

Major cities such as New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles are already stretched thin to mitigate the COVID-19 public health catastrophe. Medical professionals continue to warn about personal protective equipment shortages, ventilator shortages, even medical workforce shortages. Large cities are redirecting financial resources to prepare for a surge of hospitalizations.

The threat of a devastating economic recession—and the memory of the 2009 financial crash—looms over smaller cities and municipalities that have started to calculate the fiscal stresses they’ll face in the coming year, my colleague Adam Harris reports:

Cities and counties are looking for ways to cut their budgets as tax revenue and economic activity decline and medical costs soar. The $3.8 trillion municipal-bond market—loans used for things like building schools, hospitals, and golf courses—has essentially frozen.

Municipalities need to balance their budgets, meaning possible cuts also to the social programs many of their residents rely on for survival. Furthermore, the gap between more well-resourced institutions and those struggling to prepare is stark. One physician told our staff writer Franklin Foer:

You know, my dad is an anesthesiologist in Virginia, in a community hospital. My father called me, a primary-care doctor, to ask me to help get him our best anesthesia protocols for putting breathing tubes in patients, and how to do that safely. And I was able to, and it was marvelous to see what our anesthesiologists at Mass General had put together, but it was concerning to me that he needed to call me, a primary-care doctor, to try to get that help. That was an alarm for me.

Read their full interview.

The $2-trillion relief bill that Congress passed last week allotted hundreds of billions of dollars to help communities, but that might not be enough. Even the most affluent communities, which have a financial cushion now, may not be on as steady footing if the pandemic stretches on.

Politics Daily readers: Are you applying for an emergency small-business loan, or know someone who is? Our economics reporters would like to hear about the experience. Write to us by replying directly to this newsletter, or emailing us here. Include your name as well as the name, size, and location of your enterprise.

—Christian Paz




+ If the virus is airborne, should I wear a mask whenever I go outside? Ed Yong reports on the complex question of how the new coronavirus behaves in air (and how long it stays infectious without a human to cling to).

+ Many people will die from the new coronavirus. We may never know the exact number. Elaine Godfrey talked to John Mutter, an environmental-science professor at Columbia University, on the challenge of counting the dead: “How do you count somebody who died of a heart attack during a natural disaster? Do you call it a disaster death or a heart-attack death? There’s no rules.”

+ As more people lose their lives during the pandemic, the total anonymity of some vulnerable communities renders one important question impossible to answer: When help comes, who’s actually being helped?

+ President Trump has a penchant for firing members of his administration. As the country is ravaged by COVID-19, there’s absolutely one who can’t go, one law professor argues: Protect Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

You can keep up with The Atlantic’s most crucial coronavirus coverage here.


Today’s newsletter was written by Christian Paz and Kaila Philo, Politics fellows. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to

Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Christian Paz is an editorial fellow at The Atlantic.
Kaila Philo is an editorial fellow at The Atlantic.

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Politics Briefing: Trudeau to recall Parliament for COVID-19 relief – The Globe and Mail




Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is recalling Parliament in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 that has shut down huge sections of the economy and placed a massive strain on the medical system.

“This must be a Team Canada effort. Governments of all orders across the country are stepping up to fulfill their responsibility to Canadians. Canada hasn’t seen this type of civic mobilization since the Second World War,” Mr. Trudeau told his daily news conference on Wednesday.

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Mr. Trudeau did not say why he wanted Parliament recalled but, speaking in Regina Wednesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said a massive government emergency aid bill passed last week is out of step with the government’s new plans to raise the wage subsidy for employers from 10 per cent to 75 per cent.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, usually written by Chris Hannay. Michelle Carbert is taking over for a couple of weeks while Chris helps with other important duties at The Globe. The newsletter is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


News is currently dominated by the COVID-19 outbreak. For a full rundown, you can subscribe to our Coronavirus Update newsletter (sign up here). Here are some stories that speak to the political and governmental response.

Canada’s three largest provinces have begun setting up temporary makeshift hospitals in anticipation of an influx of patients with COVID-19. In British Columbia, Vancouver’s waterfront Convention Centre will be equipped to house 270 patients. In Quebec, the government has earmarked 4,000 hotel rooms that could be pressed into service under its public health emergency laws. And in Ontario, Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington is building a temporary pandemic unit with 93 beds to accommodate patients who need treatment for the virus.

Government officials continue to work on tailored aid for the energy sector and other specific industries, but senior officials say final announcements are not expected this week. Senior federal sources say the immediate focus of officials is on hammering out the details on providing billions of dollars of emergency funds and wage subsidies to support the unemployed and protect jobs.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Scheer, along with other members of Parliament, are promising to donate their automatic pay hike to charity, as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy and puts thousands of Canadians out of work. There’s nothing Mr. Trudeau can do about the salary hike without recalling Parliament, which has been adjourned amid the outbreak.

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Measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 are expected to continue until at least July, according to a government document obtained by the National Post. The detail, written in a COVID-19 “Daily Sitrep Highlights” by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on March 30, is the clearest government timeline to date on how long Canadians may have to endure measures to fight the pandemic.

The Globe takes a look at how Jean-Yves Duclos, president of the Treasury Board, is learning crisis management on the fly. The coronavirus crisis has turned the thoughtful, studious and rational Mr. Duclos, a former academic, into a key government spokesman at daily ministerial briefings and during frequent French and English-language media appearances.

Truck drivers and couriers are being barred from restrooms as they deliver essential goods across Canada. Drivers say their services are welcomed by businesses, but their basic human needs, including the need to relieve themselves, aren’t being accommodated because of fears they’ll spread COVID-19.

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on the face mask debate: “Mask-wearing must be complementary, not a substitute, to other actions. In short, the modified pandemic advice is essentially: a mask if you feel it necessary, but not necessarily a mask.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on enacting tomorrow’s physical distancing measures today: “For months, and especially in recent weeks as we’ve watched the novel coronavirus tear through northern Italy, epidemiologists and public-health experts have been warning us that the only way to get on top of the resulting COVID-19 disease is to get ahead of it. That is, to implement the measures today that will only really seem necessary weeks from now. If in the end, it looks like we overreacted, we can be confident that our containment efforts ultimately were successful.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on saving Grandma or the economy: “Suppose, then, that social distancing succeeds in reducing the U.S. death toll from 2.2 million, the worst-case scenario, to ‘only’ 100,000. That’s a cool US$21-trillion in lives saved, worth about as much as the entire U.S. GDP. Save Grandma.”

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Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on deficit levels: “The bad news is that Canada will be running a deficit at First World War levels. The good news is we are not at Second World War levels yet. It is not cause for cheering, but it is still worth putting the enormous spike in federal spending and borrowing in historical perspective.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on Donald Trump’s blink in the face of coronavirus reality: “Before our eyes, Mr. Trump has morphed from virus denier, to a president who has adopted wartime rhetoric in an effort to rally his country behind him in its collective fight against a mortal, invisible enemy. And so far, it’s worked out beyond most expectations.”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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On Politics: The Country Keeps Reeling – The New York Times



Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

  • At this point, even the best-case coronavirus outcome is not looking very good. Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, the top government doctors in charge of the crisis, said their target was to keep the nation’s deaths from the virus to under 240,000. In a scenario in which the government had done nothing to intervene, more than two million people could have died. Striking an uncharacteristically somber tone, President Trump warned, “I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”

  • Fauci looked to New York for some (limited) signs of optimism. Saying that only by curbing people’s exposure to the virus, would the country be able to keep a handle on the fatalities, he ventured: “I don’t want to jump the gun on it. We’re seeing little inklings of this in New York.”

  • But the news coming from Andrew Cuomo, the state’s Democratic governor, was mostly grim. He announced on Tuesday morning that the virus had killed 332 people in New York since the day before — bringing the state’s total to 1,550. (That official toll will undoubtedly rise again this morning.) And for Cuomo, the crisis has hit home: He said at his daily news briefing that his brother, Chris, a CNN host, had contracted the virus. “He’s my best friend,” the governor said. “Now he’s quarantined in the basement. But he’s funny as heck. He says to me, ‘Even the dogs won’t come downstairs.’”

  • The ink is barely dry on the $2 trillion stimulus package that Trump signed last week, but House Democrats are already prepping to fight for more. It was the largest single stimulus bill in history, but the legislation’s provisions are not long-term. It offers most adults a series of one-time (not recurring) cash payments, and its expansions to unemployment benefits are good for just 13 weeks on top of what states normally allow. And millions of Americans have joined the unemployment rolls since the coronavirus began spreading widely a few weeks ago. Still, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, threw cold water on the idea of another big stimulus bill. “I’m not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items they wouldn’t otherwise be able to pass,” he said Tuesday on the radio show of Hugh Hewitt, a conservative commentator.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, spoke on Tuesday as President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci listened.


A cadre of progressive Democrats in New York, who led a recent partisan takeover of the State Legislature, have proposed a generous bailout for tenants and property owners who are hit hard in the cratering economy.

Andrew Cuomo has ordered a 90-day moratorium on evictions, but some lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, say that is not enough. One of the leading bills in the State Legislature, introduced by State Senator Michael Gianaris, would waive rent and mortgage payments for three months.

Cuomo would have to sign off on the bill, which some observers, including those in the tenants’ rights movement, question whether he would do and if it could withstand a legal challenge in court. On the other side, representatives of landlords are telling state lawmakers that the financial burden cannot be simply transferred from renters to property owners. They want their own financial help, too.

So far, the financial relief for renters under consideration in Albany is the most sweeping and generous package of potential aid in any state, and it reflects the newfound clout of tenants in a legislature long dominated by the powerful real estate industry. The proposed legislation has positioned New York as a leader across the country — though lawmakers in California and Washington State are not far behind in proposing similar assistance.

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Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at

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