In Brief: July 29, 2020

Trump defends disproved COVID-19 treatment

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump issued a stout defense Tuesday of a disproved use of a malaria drug as a treatment for the coronavirus, hours after social media companies moved to take down videos promoting its use as potentially harmful misinformation.

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The president, in a marked shift from the more measured approach he’s taken toward the virus in recent days, took to Twitter to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and to amplify criticism of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. In a White House briefing, Trump defended his decision to promote a viral video of a group of doctors promoting the use of the drug Monday, even though his own administration withdrew emergency authorization for its use against the coronavirus.

“I think they’re very respected doctors,” Trump said, adding they believed in the drug. “There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it.” The doctors, members of a group called America’s Frontline Doctors, took part in an event organized by Tea Party Patriots Action, a dark money group that has helped fund a pro-Trump political action committee.

Scientific studies have shown hydroxychloroquine can do more harm than good when used to treat symptoms of COVID-19.

Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., and others shared video of the event on Facebook and Twitter, prompting both companies to step in and remove the content as part of an aggressive push to keep the sites free of potentially harmful information about the virus — though not before more than 17 million people had seen one version of the video circulating on the web.

US officials: Russia behind spread of virus disinformation

WASHINGTON — Russian intelligence services are using a trio of English-language websites to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to exploit a crisis that America is struggling to contain ahead of the presidential election in November, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

Two Russians who have held senior roles in Moscow’s military intelligence service known as the GRU have been identified as responsible for a disinformation effort meant to reach American and Western audiences, U.S. government officials said. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The information had previously been classified, but officials said it had been downgraded so they could more freely discuss it. Officials said they were doing so now to sound the alarm about the particular websites and to expose what they say is a clear link between the sites and Russian intelligence.

Between late May and early July, one of the officials said, the websites singled out Tuesday published about 150 articles about the pandemic response, including coverage aimed either at propping up Russia or denigrating the U.S.

Barr defends aggressive federal response to protests

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr defended the aggressive federal law enforcement response to civil unrest in America as he testified for the first time before the House Judiciary Committee, pushing back against angry, skeptical Democrats who said President Donald Trump’s administration is unconstitutionally suppressing dissent.

The hearing, held Tuesday as the late civil rights icon John Lewis lay in state steps away outside the Capitol, highlighted the wide election-year gulf between the two parties on police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement. Massive protests have sparked unrest across the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and calls for police reform are growing louder.

But Barr said “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” and argued the violence taking place in Portland, Oregon, and other cities is disconnected from Floyd’s killing, which he called a “horrible” event that prompted a necessary national reckoning on the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement. But he also said there was no systemic racism in law enforcement.

From wire sources

“Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr said of the Portland protests.

The hearing marks Barr’s first appearance before the committee after 18 months in office, bringing him face-to-face with the panel that voted last year to hold him in contempt and is holding hearings on what Democrats say is politicization of the Justice Department under his watch. But little new ground was uncovered; fuming Democrats often used their five minutes to lay out their frustrations and cut Barr off as he attempted to answer questions.

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Source: US, Oregon in talks about pulling agents in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Trump administration has started talks with the Oregon governor’s office and indicated that it would begin to draw down the presence of federal agents sent to quell two months of chaotic protests in Portland if the state stepped up its own enforcement, a senior White House official said Tuesday.

The official stressed to The Associated Press that the talks with the office of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown are in the early stages and there is no agreement. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Brown didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office also didn’t immediately respond to an email.

Just a day earlier, the U.S. Marshals Service and Department of Homeland Security were weighing whether to send in more agents. The marshals were taking steps to identify up to 100 additional personnel who could go in case they were needed to relieve or supplement the deputy marshals who work in Oregon, spokesman Drew Wade said.

Homeland Security was considering a similar measure with Customs and Border Protection agents, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plans and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

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Experts worry about errors if census schedule is sped up

ORLANDO, Fla. — After asking for coronavirus-related deadline extensions in April, the Trump administration now appears to be abandoning that request by asking Congress for extra funding to wrap up the 2020 census “as quickly, and safely as possible” in a move that could help ensure the number-crunching for redrawing congressional districts takes place on President Donald Trump’s watch.

Census Bureau officials had warned as recently as early July that it was already too late to have the numbers ready without an extension. And outside experts predicted Tuesday that speeding up the timetable would lead to an inaccurate head count that misses people in hard-to-count minority communities.

“It would be like giving an expectant mother in the early stages of pregnancy a lot of money to have the baby in 4.5 months,” said John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director in the Obama administration.

The Census Bureau is in the middle of the 2020 census, and some of the bureau’s 500,000 door-knockers started heading out this month to households that haven’t yet answered the questionnaire.

With the new coronavirus disrupting census operations in April, the Trump administration asked Congress to extend the deadlines required for the U.S. Census Bureau to turn in the head count data used for redrawing congressional district and legislative districts. The Census Bureau also postponed finishing field operations for the 2020 census from the end of July to the end of October.

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Trump administration won’t accept new DACA applications

CHICAGO — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will reject new applications and shorten renewal periods for an Obama-era program that shields young people from deportation, taking a defiant stance after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to let it be scrapped completely.

The move, detailed in a memo from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, ended a month of uncertainty about how the administration would respond to its Supreme Court defeat in an election year that has President Donald Trump looking for ways to energize his base.

Wolf said the administration may try to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program again, casting it as a law enforcement issue that could contribute to illegal immigration. He said the federal government needs more time to consider next steps, presenting the measures as a temporary change.

“DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws,” Wolf wrote in the memo.

About 650,000 people are part of DACA, which allows young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to work and shields them from deportation. Roughly 66,000 people meet age requirements to apply, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

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Biden’s notes: ‘Do not hold grudges’ against Kamala Harris

WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden was uncharacteristically tight-lipped on Tuesday about the final stretch of his search for a vice president. But the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee seemed prepared to talk about at least one leading contender: California Sen. Kamala Harris.

As he took questions from reporters on Tuesday, Biden held notes that were captured by an Associated Press photographer. Harris’ name was scrawled across the top, followed by five talking points.

“Do not hold grudges.” “Campaigned with me &Jill.” “Talented.” “Great help to campaign.” “Great respect for her.”

Those are all observations Biden has made about Harris before. But they take on new significance following a recent Politico report that one of Biden’s closest friends and a co-chair of his vice presidential vetting committee, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, still harbors concerns about Harris’ tough debate stage performance and that she hasn’t expressed regret.

The comments attributed to Dodd have drawn condemnation, especially from influential Democratic women who maintain that Harris is being held to a standard that wouldn’t apply to a man running for president.

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GOP’s jobless benefit plan could mean delays, states warn

A Republican proposal to slash the $600 weekly benefit boost for those left jobless because of the coronavirus shutdown could result in weeks or even months of delayed payments in some states.

Older computer systems that took weeks to set up for the initial federal unemployment enhancement would need to be reprogrammed again twice under the GOP plan.

In Florida, state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando, said the state has not even gotten the original supplemental benefit to everyone entitled to it.

“So the idea of changing the current process that has taken us months to put into place, that is still not even perfect, is a scary thought,” she said.

“These changes, whatever they end up being, are going to create more bureaucratic layers for people to get the relief they need. Meanwhile we have bills to pay, we have to put food on the table, we have medical expenses and a lot of people are suffering.”

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Kodak lands loan to bolster US-produced drug supply

WASHINGTON — Eastman Kodak will receive a federal loan of $765 million to help reduce reliance on other countries for ingredients in generic drugs, an agreement President Donald Trump hailed Tuesday as a breakthrough in bringing more pharmaceutical manufacturing to the United States.

Kodak Pharmaceuticals will make critical pharmaceutical ingredients that have been identified as essential but have lapsed into chronic national shortage, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration.

The government loan will help support startup costs needed to repurpose and expand Kodak’s existing facilities in Rochester, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota.

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The Kodak unit will have the capacity to produce up to 25% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to make generic drugs in the United States, Trump said.

“We must never be reliant on a foreign nation for America’s medical or other needs,” Trump said at the White House.

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