The World Health Organization raised its global risk assessment for COVID-19 from “high” to “very high.” The escalation is meant to spur countries towards stronger responses, and prepare their health systems for major disruption. The virus has now infected more than 84,100 people, in at least 56 countries.
Politico: Several House Republicans walked out of a closed-door coronavirus briefing with health officials after Democrats criticized the Trump administration’s response to the virus as disorganized and lacking urgency.
NBC News: A worldwide threats assessment in 2018 and 2017 warned about the increasing risks of a global pandemic that could strain resources and damage the global economy. Intelligence analysts even mentioned a close cousin of the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus by name, saying it had “pandemic potential” if it were “to acquire efficient human-to-human responsibility.” The 2019 worldwide threat assessment reported “that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”
New York Times: The Trump administration is considering a 70-year-old war powers law to speed up the manufacturing of medical supplies in a potential coronavirus outbreak. The Defense Production Act, passed by Congress in 1950 during the Korean War, would allow Trump to expedite production of certain products like face masks, gowns, and gloves for national security purposes.
“As Washington State declared a state of emergency over the new coronavirus, researchers who studied two cases in the state say that the virus may have been spreading there for weeks, suggesting the possibility that up to 1,500 people in the state may have been infected,” the New York Times reports.
Politico: The House Judiciary committee asked to interview the four career prosecutors who quit Roger Stone’s case after Trump and Attorney General William Barr intervened to demand a lighter jail sentence. Chairman Jerry Nadler also demanded that Barr hand over any messages Trump sent about Stone’s sentencing showing “improper political interference,” calling the recent events “deeply troubling.”
The New York Times: “A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that Congress could not sue to enforce its subpoenas of executive branch officials, handing a major victory to President Trump and dealing a severe blow to the power of Congress to conduct oversight.
In a ruling that could have far-reaching consequences for executive branch secrecy powers long after Mr. Trump leaves office, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a lawsuit brought by the House Judiciary Committee against Mr. Trump’s former White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.
On Mr. Trump’s instructions, Mr. McGahn defied a House subpoena seeking to force him to testify about Mr. Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. The House sued him, seeking a judicial order that he show up to testify, and won in district court in November.”
It is likely that the House would appeal to the full appeals court to rehear the case. Both judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents — Judge Griffith was appointed by George W. Bush and Judge Karen L. Henderson, who joined him in the decision, was appointed by George Bush. The dissenting judge was appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
BBC: At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Syrian attack on the Idlib Province, constituting a major escalation in the conflict. Russia has denied any involvement. As tensions rise, Turkey said it would open land and sea borders with Idlib, to allow trapped refugees to pass through into Europe.
Washington Post: The death toll of the opioid epidemic is higher than originally reported. A new study concludes that opioid-related overdoses might be 28 percent higher than official statistics suggest because of incomplete death records, which might be partially a function of our apparent national autopsy shortage.
In other unsettling news around theopioid epidemic, Michael Bloomberg offered media guidance to the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, in 2017. Bloomberg advised Mortimer Sackler (a real name) on how to handle the negative coverage, and has never publicly denounced the family for fueling a national health crisis for obscene profit.
The New York Times: The House has approved a bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. The bill is aimed at banning the flavored e-cigarettes marketed to teens, but would also prohibit flavors in cigarettes, including menthol. That’s raised concerns that a ban could lead to over-policing in black neighborhoods.
CNN: The Trump administration has proposed tripling some fees for immigration court filings, building on the asylum and naturalization application fees it proposed back in November. The move would make it more expensive to appeal rulings, in a naked bid to deter immigrants from appealing their deportation cases.
The New York Times: A new Education Department policy will strip federal funding from over 800 rural schools. The department quietly changed how districts must report how many of their students live in poverty, which will cause hundreds of schools to lose thousands of dollars from the Rural and Low-Income School Program. For the last 17 years, districts have been allowed to use the percentage of students who qualify for federally subsidized meals as a metric, because Census data often misses residents in rural areas. The Education Department now says that only estimates from Census data can be used to get funding, which will hurt some of the poorest, most geographically isolated schools in the country. Sounds like something voters might like to hear about over the next several months.
The Hill: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney suggested that Americans ignore the media’s coverage of the coronavirus while acknowledging that the outbreak will likely cause disruptions to everyday life in the U.S., such as school closures and changes to public transportation. Mulvaney claimed that the media ignored the administration’s early efforts, because it was preoccupied with thinking impeachment “would bring down the president.” Mulvaney then suggested that the news media only switched to the coronavirus because “they think this is going to be what brings down” Trump. He then urged Americans to “Turn off your televisions for 24 hours.”
After vowing not to vote for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, citing his “lack of self-restraint” and “unsuitablity for office,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) wouldn’t say during a recent interview with a local TV news program whether she’s voting for Trump in her state’s upcoming primary, the HuffPost reports.
“A federal district judge in D.C. ruled on Sunday that Ken Cuccinelli’s placement as the acting top official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act,” Axios reports. “Policies that were put in place under Cuccinelli are now void.”