Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
Donald Trump did fulfill his promise to run the country like he ran his businesses. It was primarily a branding operation, and perception was always all that ever really mattered. That was evident this week, when the White House held a "vaccine summit" to brag about their ostensible accomplishments, and it ultimately turned farcical when the heads of the two companies that have developed the first vaccines to hit the market, Pfizer and Moderna, decided to skip it.
The event was part of a scramble by the White House to contain news that the Trump regime had passed on an offer by Pfizer to option additional dosages of the vaccine beyond the 100-million it had originally ordered. (Both companies' vaccines require two shots, so the initial order was enough to vaccinate 50 million Americans.) "The United States could be heading for a vaccine cliff this spring," reported Politico, "with shortages forcing hundreds of millions of Americans to wait for shots amid intense global competition for limited doses." According to an analysis by Bloomberg, "Thirty-one countries around the globe have reserved more Covid-19 vaccine per capita than the U.S.," which is "behind the 27 European Union countries that banded together to pre-order vaccines in larger quantities, and sandwiched between Chile and Japan in 31st and 33rd, respectively."
Perhaps sensing what a brazen betrayal of his "America first" rhetoric this failure represented, especially given that Trump's mismanagement had made our Covid-19 outbreak the most destructive in the world, Trump penned a murky "executive order" that would supposedly prioritize the delivery of vaccines to Americans but lacked an enforcement mechanism and was no more than symbolic. When asked to explain how the order would work, Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientist of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, was stumped. “Frankly, I don’t know, and frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment,” Slaoui said. “I literally don’t know.”
It's unclear why the regime didn't at least option a second run of vaccines. We know Trump was singularly focused on the election, and had little concern for public health. Trump wanted to announce a breakthrough right before November 3, and when Pfizer and Moderna announced their promising results a week later, he claimed that they had timed the release to undermine his chances of re-election. Perhaps he and his inner circle just weren't interested in the continuing rollout next year.
House Democrats say they have unearthed "new evidence indicating that Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield may have ordered subordinates to destroy an email showing that senior political appointees in the Trump Administration had attempted to stop the publication of scientific reports on the coronavirus." Politico has more details.
They're so petty.
"Dr. James Phillips, the emergency room physician who publicly criticized President Trump's decision to drive with Secret Service agents to greet supporters while he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October, has been removed from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center's schedule starting in January," according to CBS News.
The Trump regime has executed ten federal prisoners over the past six months--three times the number that the government had killed over the proceeding half-century. The Huffington Post explains how this rash of executions has helped spread the Coronavirus.
"A majority of the nation’s top veterans advocacy groups called for the dismissal of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie after the department’s inspector general found he mishandled an investigation into sexual-assault allegations by a female veteran," reports The Wall Street Journal. "An inspector general report released Thursday said the secretary disparaged a veteran who said she had been assaulted at a VA hospital last year."
Salon reports that Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) played a key role in the smear campaign against the woman.
This may be the perfect story of the Trump era: "whistle-blowers working on President Trump’s wall said that contractors were illegally bringing in Mexican guards to protect construction sites," according to The New York Times. "The whistle-blowers said Ultimate Concrete went so far as to build a dirt road to expedite illegal border crossings to sites in San Diego, using construction vehicles to block security cameras."
Democrats are investigating whether Jared Kushner "pushed his father-in-law Trump to support a Qatari blockade while Kushner Companies sought a more than billion-dollar bailout from officials from that and other Middle Eastern governments." More details at Law and Crime.
"Loyalists to President Trump have blocked transition meetings at some government agencies and are sitting in on discussions at other agencies between career civil servants and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s transition teams, sometimes chilling conversations," reports The New York Times.
On our podcast this week, ProPublica's Lydia DePillis talks about how Trump is burrowing loyal political appointees into the federal civil service, where they will be hard for the next administration to fire.
Trump appointing more loyalists to government boards, including Chao, Conway and Schlapp. Last week he put Lewandow… https://t.co/DICEBnn1OW— Jim Acosta (@Jim Acosta) 1607452822.0
"The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates," according to The NYT.
In one of the final policy moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place the current rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, instead of strengthening them, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness.
Finally, we'll leave you with a ludicrous story of how Trump is embarrassing aides by offering them pardons even if they don't believe they've committed any crimes.