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Trump administration insists politics won’t play into timeline for coronavirus vaccine

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The Trump administration’s top health officials and advisers this week adamantly insisted political motivations won’t play into the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified states to be ready to distribute one to high-priority groups as soon as Nov. 1 — two days before the presidential election.

The CDC deadline has fueled concerns among Democrats and some health officials of political pressures to fast-track vaccine approval at the expense of public safety as President Donald Trump continues to tease the vaccine’s arrival while campaigning for reelection.

“We remain on track to deliver a vaccine before the end of the year and maybe even before November 1,” Trump told reporters on Friday evening at a White House briefing. “We think we can probably have it sometime during the month of October.”

The Trump campaign late Friday also released a new ad campaign called “Great American Comeback,” pushing the promise of a vaccine and kicking off by saying, “In the race for a vaccine, the finish line is approaching.”

“I think what’s happening is you’re gonna see tremendous growth in the very near future. We’re rounding the curve. We’re coming up with vaccines,” Trump said Friday in the Oval Office while touting job numbers. “And the vaccines are gonna come out soon and the therapeutics are continuing, and that’s why we’re having the kind of numbers we have.”

But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday said the public should be cautious the Trump administration may influence the FDA’s decision to approve a COVID-19 vaccine earlier than is safe for political gain.

“Too much of the evidence points to the Trump administration pressuring the FDA to approve a vaccine by Election Day to boost the President’s re-election campaign. This raises serious safety concerns about politics, not science and public health, driving the decision making process,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday. “All Americans want a safe and effective vaccine as soon as possible, but if these important life and death decisions appear political, it will only undermine Americans’ confidence in a vaccine and prolong the pandemic.”

Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told The New York Times last month that people “should be” worried about politics influencing the vaccine timeline.

“There are a lot of people on the inside of this process who are very nervous about whether the administration is going to reach their hand into the Warp Speed bucket, pull out one or two or three vaccines, and say, ‘We’ve tested it on a few thousand people, it looks safe, and now we are going to roll it out,’” he said.

“They are really worried about that,” Offit said. “And they should be.”

In an excerpt of an interview with Dana Bash on CNN released Saturday, Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket, said she would “not trust Donald Trump” alone on the efficacy of a vaccine should it be available before Election Day.

When asked if she would get the vaccine if it was approved and distributed before the election, Harris said:

“Well I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about. I will not take his word for it.”

Addressing criticism that the administration’s timetable on a vaccine might be politically motivated, Trump said he wants a vaccine as soon as October “not because of the election” but “because we want to save people.”

“It will be delivered, in my opinion, before the end of the year,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to dozens of unmasked supporters packed together Thursday night. “But it really might even be delivered before the end of October. How would you like that? Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Ultimately, the timeline of the ongoing late-stage vaccine trials is not determined by Trump or his administration. Instead, the timeline will be determined by how rapidly the trials recruit volunteers and how many of those volunteers become infected. Then, independent monitoring boards will make a determination about whether there’s sufficient data to recommend FDA authorization.

While several experts who the president has tasked with working on vaccine development have not completely closed the door on the possibility of a vaccine in October, other officials have said that a vaccine is more likely after the election. Distributing it presents another set of hurdles, but it’s reasonable to have states prepare for distribution earlier, they say.

Timeline on track for a vaccine in late 2020 or early 2021, chances of early vaccine “possible, but not probable”

Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Friday morning, presented with the mixed messages coming from the Trump administration about whether a vaccine could be ready in time for the November election, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” there’s been “no contradictory information.”

“We’ve always said that we’re hopeful for a vaccine by the end of this year or the beginning of next year,” Adams said. “On the chance that the vaccine could be available early, and Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and Dr. [Moncef] Slaoui it’s possible but not probable. We want to make sure states are available to distribute it, hence November 1st recommendations from the CDC just in case it’s ready to quickly get it to the people who most need it.”

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said one day earlier that any talk of a COVID-19 vaccine being available by late October or November are “guesstimates,” that are not impossible but unlikely.

“If you look at the projection of the enrollment and the kinds of things you’ll need to get a decision about whether the vaccine is safe and effective, most of us project that that’s going to be by November and December, by the end of this year,” he told CNN.

Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, Trump’s effort to accelerate production of a coronavirus vaccine, also told NPR Thursday the likelihood of having a vaccine for Election Day is “extremely unlikely, but not impossible,” but that he “firmly” believes vaccine could be ready by the end of the year.

“There is a very, very low chance that the trials that are running as we speak could [be completed] before the end of October and therefore there could be — if all other conditions required for an Emergency Use Authorization are met — an approval,” Slaoui said. “I think it’s extremely unlikely but not impossible, and therefore it’s the right thing to do to be prepared, in case.”

He added that immunizing the entire U.S. population could take until “the middle of 2021.”

CDC asks states to be ready to distribute vaccine by Nov. 1

Three vaccine candidates are in the third and final phase of trials in the U.S., including one that could report sufficient data as soon as next month. Fauci and others have said they don’t expect full results until later in the year and that it would still be months before a vaccine is approved and available to the general public.

So when CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield sent a letter last week to health officials in all 50 states and territories asking them to prepare for a vaccine by Nov. 1, other health officials and Democrats raised concerns that safety measures could be bypassed and that the Food and Drug Administration, traditionally an independent agency protected from political influence, could be pressed to help Trump’s campaign for reelection by delivering on a vaccine.

“CDC urgently requests your assistance in expediting applications for these distribution facilities and, if necessary, asks that you consider waiving requirements that would prevent these facilities from becoming operational by November 1, 2020,” Redfield wrote, adding the expedited process will “not compromise” safety.

The letter comes as officials from the FDA, the agency tasked with approving the vaccine, have left the door open to granting a vaccine emergency authorization to some groups like health care workers before all the data is available, with Commissioner Stephen Hahn telling the Financial Times last month he would be willing to bypass the normal approval process while insisting it has nothing to do with pleasing Trump.

But Peter Marks, the FDA official in charge of the office that oversees vaccines the Center for Biologics and Research, told the Washington Post this week the government intends “not to give the American public anything less than a gold standard” but that it would be unethical to wait for full approval on a vaccine they believe is safe and effective while people are dying.

Politics not at play, officials say

Trump administration officials including FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn have repeatedly pushed back on concerns the agency is losing its independence, saying the president wants to get a vaccine to the American people as quickly as possible but only if it’s done safely. White House Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnany told reporters in a briefing Thursday “no one is pressuring the FDA to do anything.”

Adams on Friday said it “won’t be possible” to put politics ahead of science in the race for a vaccine because of the safeguards in place at the FDA.

“What people need to understand is we have what are called data safety monitoring boards that blind the data and so it won’t be possible to actually move forward unless this independent board thinks that there is good evidence that these vaccines are efficacious and have been through phase one and phase two trials and feel reasonably good about the safety so far,” he said.

Fauci and Hahn have also said Americans shouldn’t be concerned politics will play into the timeline as the FDA has plans to consult with independent advisory boards in place to ensure decisions are made based on the science and data from trials.

In an interview Friday, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said, “I know that everybody thinks that we’re rushing for a vaccine, and we are because we want to stop infections and we want to stop this ongoing mortality.”

“There is one reason to have a vaccine and that’s so we can prevent ongoing infections and the mortality that comes from that,” she added.

On the CDC Nov. 1 deadline, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CBS Thursday it “has nothing to do with elections” but “has to do with delivering safe, effective vaccines to the American people as quickly as possible and saving people’s lives,” on par with comments Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made earlier in the week.

Slaoui, the vaccine chief, noted he only learned of the CDC letter asking state health officials to prepare for a vaccine by Nov. 1 in the news but has insisted he would quit his post if science does not carry the day.

“There is, for us, there is absolutely nothing to do with politics, and many of us may or may not be supportive of this administration. It’s irrelevant, frankly,” he said.

Fauci, too, has defended the integrity of the FDA in the process emphasizing that its decisions will be based on the best available data and that he would feel confident in taking a vaccine himself when it’s approved.

Fauci’s boss, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, asked about the CDC preparing to distribute a vaccine as soon as October, said he doesn’t think it’s likely by then but the administration wants states to be prepared.

“This is like the Boy Scout motto, ‘Be Prepared,'” Collins told CNN. “Even if it’s very low likelihood, if everything happened to come together really beautifully and we had an answer by then and we knew we had a vaccine that was safe and effective, wouldn’t you want people to be ready to figure out how to do the distribution? That’s all that CDC is saying.”

Source: – ABC News

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Coincidence and condolence: Dying together in politics – Fort McMurray Today

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Bader Ginsburg, therefore, is the Kennedy to Turner’s Lewis and Huxley. She is the Diana to his Mother Teresa

Late U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Former Prime Minister of Canada John Turner are pictured here.

Postmedia Network

John Turner, a former Prime Minister of Canada, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a lifetime Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, both died on Friday night.

Dying accidentally together like this has created many historical odd couples, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third American Presidents, who both died with a poignant flourish for the calendar on July 4, Independence Day, 1826.

Sometimes one death eclipses the other in the public’s capacity for mourning, as when Mother Teresa passed almost unnoticed a few days after Princess Diana in 1997. Likewise, Farrah Fawcett died of cancer on the morning of June 25, 2009, and was the big celebrity news of the day until TMZ reported in the afternoon that Michael Jackson also died that day.

Some death partnerships seem to elevate each other in solidarity with a common cause. The civil rights leader, statesman and “conscience of Congress” John Lewis died on July 17 this year, the same day as the preacher C.T. Vivian, who was also a civil rights leader going back to the inner circle of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Others are schoolkid legends or viral factoids that are not quite true, like Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, who did technically both die on April 23, 1616, but in different countries, Spain and England, which were using different calendars, so in fact they died 10 days apart.

Some simultaneous exits are curious coincidences, like Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner who both died on Jan. 28, 2016, 50 years after she left the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, which they co-founded.

Some death partnerships seem to elevate each other in solidarity with a common cause

Others seem not to be coincidences at all, but somehow causally related as expressions of intense emotional intimacy, as in the occasional married couple who make headlines for dying sweetly together in ripe old age, or the parents of former star CFL quarterback Doug Flutie, Dick and Joan, who had heart attacks in short sequence on Nov. 18, 2015.

Some just seem ominous. On the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Nov. 22, 1963, C.S. Lewis died of ill health in Oxford, and Aldous Huxley died of cancer in Los Angeles, tripping on LSD.

Few such death partnerships carry the political heft of the latest one between Bader Ginsburg and Turner.

The main contrast is how differently they matter to the wider public. Turner’s death casts the mind back to the past. Bader Ginsburg’s death does the same, but it also inspires urgent thoughts of the future.

Turner’s death has been treated in Canada as an opportunity to reflect on history, on the Liberal Party’s changing fortunes. Former prime ministers are under a newly critical eye. No one gets the saintly treatment any more, even in death. But Turner is someone who can be mourned at ease. He was not prime minister very long, less than three months in 1984. He had not been in the news lately, and had seemed frail in public appearances.

His death is an opportunity to appreciate a unique life of leadership, but it will not disrupt Canadian politics.

Bader Ginsburg, on the other hand, has set off a tumult by dying because her vacant seat on the top court hands an opportunity to President Donald Trump to replace her.

They have become footnotes to each other’s obituaries

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she dictated to her granddaughter Clara Spera a few days before she died.

Trump and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell indicated over the weekend they intend to ensure that wish does not come true — Trump by nominating a replacement judge in the next month, and McConnell by speeding a confirmation vote.

Mourning Bader Ginsburg, therefore, has a sense of political urgency that mourning Turner does not.

Her death is not merely an opportunity to reflect on her role as the liberal grandee of the court, famous for her consensus building with conservatives like her friend the late Antonin Scalia, and credited by progressives with securing important votes on deeply divisive issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Rather, it is bound up in a presidential election both sides describe as the all-or-nothing struggle for America’s soul.

This sense of historical import came through in the impromptu singing of Amazing Grace by mourners on the steps of the Supreme Court, a Christian hymn for a Jewish judge in a distinctively American irony. Moments like this illustrate how different America can be from Canada, where judicial appointments are not unto death, let alone so nakedly politicized.

Bader Ginsburg, therefore, is the Kennedy to Turner’s Lewis and Huxley. She is the Diana to his Mother Teresa, coming chronologically first and to far greater hoopla. They have become — like the filmmaker Orson Welles and the actor Yul Brynner who both died on Oct. 10, 1985 — footnotes to each other’s obituaries.

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Mitch McConnell is the apex predator of U.S. politics – The Washington Post

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Howard Fineman is an NBC News analyst and a RealClearPolitics contributing correspondent.

When Minnesota Democrat Al Franken was in the Senate, the only way he could even briefly befriend Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was to compliment the Republican leader on a speech. One day, after McConnell had given what passed for heartfelt remarks in praise of Senate spouses, Franken approached him to say it was a “lovely speech.” A comedian in an earlier life, Franken then proceeded to kid him on the square. “Mitch, I have to say, I really like your speeches better when they aren’t in the service of evil.”

“I like the evil ones better,” McConnell replied, with a thin smile.

No joke. At 78, after a half-century in politics, Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. now stands at the precipice of what most Republicans only a generation or two ago would have said was impossible: conservative domination of the Supreme Court.

For McConnell, this is a personal triumph worthy of the history books. But history may record it differently. It seems probable that McConnell’s epitaph will note instead that no one since the Southern segregationists of the 1940s and 1950s did more to cripple the proper functioning of all three branches of government, not to mention faith in the very idea of one America.

Historian Rick Perlstein has long described this chapter in the American story as “Nixonland,” a jagged terrain of White racial fear and populist resentment of the federal authority that began in the mid-1960s. But while GOP presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have tilled that soil when it suited their purposes, McConnell has been, over the years, its most constant gardener, mixing arcane, cynically hypocritical legislative procedure and judicial appointments to turn emotion into lasting policy.

He has jammed hundreds of conservative judges onto the federal bench, making it younger, Whiter and more male — and far more partisan — in the process. In concert with the Federalist Society, McConnell is transforming the federal judiciary from sometimes-defenders of the poor, immigrants and people of color into the Praetorian Guard of corporations, the wealthy, and those whose cultural and racial privileges make them, at best, oblivious to their collective responsibility to all Americans. At the same time, McConnell is standing in the schoolhouse door of dozens if not hundreds of pieces of needed legislation, rendering the “world’s greatest deliberative body” an empty pantomime of itself.

And if he succeeds in forcing another pliable justice onto the Supreme Court, he may prove responsible for undercutting whatever legitimacy a possibly disputed presidential election might have if, as many suspect, it must be settled by that court. One reason to move fast and give the court a 6-3 conservative majority? To take the relatively independent (and therefore unreliable) Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. out of the equation.

McConnell has been around so long people think they know him. But they don’t, and that is by design. When you are the apex predator of U.S. politics, you don’t really care what anyone thinks. In Kentucky, where I worked for six years as McConnell was beginning his rise, he is not so much loved as endured. People talk about him like the rainy Ohio River Valley weather: It’s a pain, but it waters the crops. He retains an iron grip on state politics, has been elected statewide six times and is likely to win a seventh term in November. Democrats are pouring millions into defeating him. It’s not a great bet.

McConnell, reduced to his essence, is a state party chairman on steroids. His eye for detail, and his feral sense of approaching threats, is total. In the summer of 1968, working for a U.S. Senate candidate that year, he traveled the state from Pikeville to Paducah with another young Republican, Jon Yarmuth, now the Democratic member of the U.S. House representing Louisville. After work, as they hunkered down at yet another rural motel, Yarmuth would suggest that they go out for a drink. Mitch would have none of it. “What he wanted to do was sit in the room,” Yarmuth recalled, “and read every report and statistic about the county.”

His granular focus on local matters derives in part from the fact that McConnell isn’t Kentucky-bred. He was born in North Alabama and spent his childhood there and in Georgia before moving to Louisville as a teen. He and his family lived in the city’s South End, where newcomers from the Deep South settled in a city whose moneyed ruling class saw itself as tweed-clad country cousins of the Eastern elite. McConnell absorbed the middle-class resentments of his neighborhood.

From boyhood on, he pursued every title he could find: high school student council president; college student president, law school bar association president, state president of the Ripon Society and so on, up the ziggurat of perches and entitlements, all the way to Senate majority leader.

These days he pitches himself to historians as the heir to the godfather of distributed power, James Madison. McConnell has a point, in one sense. The contrapuntal effect of the federal courts is valuable, even indispensable; a piece of Newtonian balance that the founders knew was important. But McConnell is not interested in balance: He is interested only in total dominance, and in a bulwark against change, whatever the cost to the country.

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Why Supreme Court politics in 2020 look way different from 2016 or 2018 – CNN

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We don’t know what the ultimate effect of any Supreme Court battle will be on the 2020 election. Still, we can look at the playing board. It suggests the 2020 electoral calculus has fundamental differences with the electoral math of 2016 and 2018 when it comes to Supreme Court nominations.
Yesterday, I noted that more of former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters have said the Supreme Court was important to their vote than Trump supporters. That’s very different from 2016, when Trump backers said the court was more important to their vote than Hillary Clinton backers.
The contrasts go deeper than that, however.
Trump often struggled with rallying the base in 2016. There were points in that cycle when he was receiving only about 75% of the Republican vote in polls. A Supreme Court nomination was the perfect way to get the base to support his cause.
Trump, though, has centered pretty much his entire presidency around appealing to his base. He’s done so, oftentimes, at the expense of bringing in more moderate voters to his cause. It’s paid off for Trump.
Republicans are backing Trump at very high numbers now. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll out on Friday put Trump’s support at 94% among likely Republican voters. Our last CNN/SSRS poll showed that 99% of very conservative Republicans were supporting Trump.
In other words, Trump already has the base behind him in a way he didn’t at many times in 2016. Any more gains he could make with them would be very limited.
There are distinctions between the 2018 and 2020 Supreme Court nomination showdown as well.
You may recall Republicans picked up four Senate seats and lost two for a net gain of 2 in 2018. This came after Kavanaugh was nominated in late summer and confirmed early that fall.
It does seem like the Kavanaugh nomination was a boon to a number of Republican Senate candidates. Republicans knocked out Democratic senators in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. In all of those states, a majority of voters who said that Kavanaugh was a factor in their vote cast their ballots for the Republican Senate candidate. Those who said it wasn’t a factor either split their vote or a majority went for the Democratic nominee.
All of those seats were in states where Trump won by 19 points or more in 2016. That is, they were very red states.
The Kavanaugh hearing, if anything, rallied the Republican base in red states.
In the only purple state where Republicans defeated a Democratic senator (Bill Nelson in Florida), voters who said his vote against Kavanaugh was a factor in their decision were actually slightly more likely to back the Democratic nominee.
The 2018 House elections tell a similar story. Unlike in the Senate, where a limited number of seats is up every cycle, every House seat was up for election in 2018.
House Republicans were not helped by the Kavanaugh hearings.
Democrats’ advantage on the generic congressional ballot was in the high single digits before the Kavanaugh hearings and remained as such through the election. Democrats ended up with a net gain of 40 seats in the House.
The 2020 presidential race will be fought on, if anything, more favorable terrain than the 2018 House elections. Democrats don’t need to worry about winning a majority of congressional districts. They only need to win a majority of electoral votes.
Likewise, the 2020 Senate terrain is totally different. Only one of the seats Democrats are defending is in deep red territory. That Alabama seat was already in major danger of flipping prior to any Supreme Court battle.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ easiest path to a Senate majority runs through purple states. Democrats’ easiest pickup opportunities are in Arizona (a state where the same Republican Senate candidate lost in 2018), Colorado and Maine. Biden is clearly ahead in the polls in all of these states.
The other two best pickup opportunities are in states where Trump is likely either up by a point or two (Iowa) or down by a point or two (North Carolina). In neither state is the Democratic Senate nominee running too far ahead of Biden.
The bottom line is that, while any estimates of what the upcoming Supreme Court fight means for the election are just guesses, 2016 and 2018 are not good road maps to understanding the dynamic in 2020. The situations are quite different.

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