Letters From an American

Fighting COVID Should Not Be A Partisan Issue

Despite the coronavirus crisis, the Trump administration continues to put its energy into trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Fighting COVID Should Not Be A Partisan Issue

Pfizer is out this morning saying that an early look at its Phase 3 trial for the coronavirus vaccine shows that there’s been a 90 percent effectiveness rate at preventing infection.

December 7, 2020

On this date in 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing 2,403 Americans, including 68 civilians. As of this evening, more than 283,700 Americans have died of Covid-19.

The big story in the country today remains the coronavirus.

Today the New York Times broke the story that, before it was clear that Pfizer’s vaccine would be effective, its leadership offered to the Trump administration the chance to order more than the 100 million doses to which it had committed. (Since each person requires two doses, this amount can vaccinate about 50 million people.) The administration declined, apparently because the U.S. invested in a number of vaccine companies including Moderna, whose vaccine appears as if it will be ready right behind that of Pfizer. But when Pfizer approached the European Union after the U.S. declined, its officials jumped on the chance to order the additional units, and now the E.U. has twice the Pfizer vaccine that the U.S. does. The company says it will not have more vaccines available for purchase until next June or July.

Administration officials insist there will still be plenty of vaccines for Americans but, apparently feeling pressure, Trump has announced he will sign a toothless Executive Order saying that the United States will prioritize keeping vaccines at home until Americans are all vaccinated.

The Trump administration delayed transmitting information to the Biden team about the plan for distribution of the vaccine to 331 million Americans, but once he did get briefings, Biden expressed concern at the apparent lack of a plan for vaccine distribution. The process will be complicated because it involves a number of steps, all of which will require different equipment, which will have to be produced and moved in huge quantities to about 50,000 sites around the country.

Trump is now trying to arrange a summit about the vaccine on Tuesday with experts who will explain the plans for distribution. This, the administration hopes, will give the public confidence in the vaccine while enabling Trump to claim credit for it. Spokespeople for Pfizer and Moderna, the two pharmaceutical companies with what are currently the most promising vaccines, were invited but have said they will not attend. They have expressed concern about the politicization of the vaccine and worry that that politicization will hurt public confidence in it.

The White House has not invited President-Elect Joe Biden or his team to the summit, although they will be responsible for the majority of the vaccine distribution after Biden takes office on January 20, 2021.

Meanwhile, the doctor who criticized Trump’s decision to drive around the Bethesda, Maryland, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to greet supporters while he was a patient there, has been removed from the hospital’s schedule beginning in January. Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University and an attending physician at Walter Reed, called Trump’s drive a “dangerous move” that “sent the wrong message” at a time when he was infected with coronavirus. Phillips tweeted, “Every single person in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential ‘drive-by’ just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater. Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity.”

This morning in Florida, about 10 armed law enforcement officers raided the home of former state data scientist Rebekah Jones and seized her computers, phone, thumb drives, and hard drives. Jones was fired from her job at the state Department of Health for insubordination in May when she apparently refused to manipulate data about coronavirus to downplay state infections at a time when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was eager to reopen the state. Jones had built the state’s Covid-19 dashboard, and after she was fired, she continued to compile and post coronavirus updates on her own.

An investigator with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement filed an affidavit saying that someone had hacked the state emergency management system to send a text to about 1,750 people with the message: “It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.” The affidavit said the text came from an IP address connected to Jones’s house, and the affidavit was the reason for the search warrant that led to the raid. Jones denies having anything to do with the text, and noted that it went out on the official channel about the time that five of the eight team leaders at the DOH were fired in what she described as a purge.

Jones publicly blamed DeSantis for the raid on her home. “This is what happens to people who speak truth to power,” she tweeted. DeSantis’s spokesperson told CNN, “the governor’s office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation.”

Biden is taking a very different path than his predecessor with regard to science and the coronavirus. Today he chose Dr. Rochelle Walensky to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Walensky has degrees in medicine and public health. She is an infectious disease specialist at both Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who has worked extensively in HIV testing, care, and prevention. “I’m honored to be called to lead the brilliant team at the CDC. We are ready to combat this virus with science and facts,” she tweeted today. Biden has also asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, who has had a rocky relationship with Trump, to join the Biden administration as chief medical officer.

Despite the coronavirus crisis, the Trump administration continues to put its energy into trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Having won only once, Trump today lost his 49th legal case, when lawyer Sidney Powell, who was recently dismissed from Trump’s campaign legal team, lost yet again in her attempt to get the results of the 2020 election thrown out. In Georgia, Judge Timothy Batten, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, rejected a lawsuit to overturn Biden’s victory in the state. “They want this court to substitute its judgment for that of 2.5 million Georgia voters who voted for Joe Biden,” Batten said, “and this I am unwilling to do.”

Nonetheless, tonight we learned that Trump reached out to a third state to try to enlist the support of Republican officials to overturn the election results. The office of the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Bryan Cutler, confirmed that the president twice called to try to get Cutler to “fix” what he claimed were “issues” in Philadelphia. Cutler was one of about 60 state legislators who asked Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to object to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes when they are brought before Congress on January 6, 2021, an effort that might cause a fuss but is unlikely to do much else. Trump has also unsuccessfully pressured officials in Arizona and Georgia to change their state’s votes.

So, of course, has Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is now hospitalized with coronavirus. His meetings over the last week to try to overturn the election, meetings in which he did not wear a mask, have led the Arizona legislature to close for a week. A health officer for Michigan confirmed that “it is extremely likely that Giuliani was contagious during his testimony” in the statehouse there, and the Michigan House has canceled its Tuesday voting session. In Georgia, where Giuliani testified before a subcommittee, the legislature is not in session. Democratic Georgia Senator Jen Jordan, who attended Thursday’s hearing with Giuliani, tweeted, “Little did I know that most credible death threat that I encountered last week was Trump’s own lawyer…. Giuliani — maskless, in packed hearing room for 7 hours. To say I am livid would be too kind.”

Other threats over the election have been more obvious. This weekend, about two dozen armed protesters gathered at the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, chanting “Stop the Steal.” They believe Trump’s false accusations of voter fraud in Michigan and blame Benson for refusing to bow to what they insist is evidence of a rigged election.

Benson called out their actions as “an extension of the noise and clouded efforts to spread false information about the security and accuracy of our elections that we’ve all endured in the month since the polls closed on November 3. Through blatantly false press releases, purely political legislative hearings, bogus legal claims and so called ‘affidavits’ that fail to allege any clear or cogent evidence of wrongdoing, those unhappy with the results of this election have perpetuated an unprecedented, dangerous, egregious campaign to erode the public’s confidence in the results of one of the most secure, accessible and transparent elections in our state’s history.”

The threats of the protesters outside her home “were actually aimed at the 5.5 million Michigan citizens who voted in this fall’s election, seeking to overturn their will,” Benson wrote. “They will not succeed.”

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.