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— Public health experts don’t want the nation to rush back to work, fearing an explosion of Covid-19 cases.
— The Trump administration’s relationship with China is set to worsen after a series of new claims about China’s cover-up of the virus.
— The Senate is returning amid some lawmakers’ nervousness about contracting coronavirus and after congressional leaders rejected an HHS offer of rapid testing.
WELCOME BACK TO MONDAY PULSE — Where your authors are looking for your favorite underrated Washington landmark in a movie or TV show. (Dan watched “Salt” this weekend, where the L’Enfant Promenade played a key role by providing a key roll.)
EXPERTS SAY IT’s TOO EARLY TO NATIONALLY REOPEN — Their warnings come after the White House let national guidelines on social distancing expire last week and some states, led by Georgia, take steps to reopen their economies.
“I think we need to be going forward very cautiously,” Johns Hopkins’ Tom Inglesby said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” nothing that about 200,000 new cases have been confirmed each week. “Overall, as a country, we still have a long way to go,” he added, saying that only a small number of states are getting close to the White House metric of a two-week decline of cases.
— Many governors also are sounding the alarm, even as political pressure mounts — led by conservatives — to reopen state economies.
“We have to keep listening to the epidemiologists and experts, and not listen to the partisan rhetoric or these political rallies,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We have to keep doing the right thing, the next right thing.”
— A second wave of cases also could hit the United States later this year, particularly after schools and residential college campuses are back in session this fall.
As people go back to school and if strict behaviors lapse, “you can see this slow simmer explode into a new epidemic or a large outbreak,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” adding “that’s the concern, that if we don’t snuff this out more, and you have this slow burn of infection, it can ignite at any time.”
— But President Donald Trump is making optimistic claims, like telling a Fox News virtual town hall on Sunday night that a vaccine should be ready by the end of the year.
Trump’s claim contradicted his own health officials, who have been more cautious about the pace of vaccine development, and he also used the town hall to again tout unproven malaria drugs to fight the virus.
THE WORSENING RELATIONSHIP WITH CHINA — The already tense situation between Washington and Beijing is set to further degrade after a series of reports and administration claims this weekend.
— MIKE POMPEO on Sunday claimed there’s “enormous evidence” the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan, an escalation in the Trump administration’s claims that China bears responsibility for the pandemic.
“There is enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” the secretary of state said on ABC’s “This Week,” before adding “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
While global scientists concur that the virus was likely not manmade or otherwise modified, some Trump officials say the virus may have been released because of a lab accident. The unproven theory is creating new stress between Beijing and Washington.
— Intelligence officials also believe China likely withheld information to have time to hoard supplies, POLITICO’s Betsy Woodruff Swan reports.
According to the intelligence report from the Department of Homeland Security, Beijing dramatically increased its imports and decreased its exports of medical supplies before sharing full details on the novel coronavirus outbreak with the World Health Organization. The report reached its conclusion with moderate confidence, it said.
— Trump’s supporters are echoing the president’s criticism of China, POLITICO’s Anita Kumar reports, as state senators, talk show hosts and activists increasingly focus their rhetoric on the country.
TRUMP TAPS DOJ ATTORNEY TO BE TOP HHS WATCHDOG — The president on Friday night announced he would nominate a new HHS inspector general, weeks after attacking the watchdog agency’s acting head over a report revealing supply shortages and coronavirus testing delays at hospitals, POLITICO’s Rachel Roubein reports.
— The president picked JASON WEIDA, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston, who previously worked at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy. “He has overseen numerous complex investigations in healthcare and other sectors,” the White House said in a statement. Weida would still need Senate confirmation before taking over the office.
— Trump had blasted the work of acting OIG head CHRISTI GRIMM, claiming that the watchdog’s survey of more than 300 hospitals in late March was “inaccurate” and based on Grimm’s “opinion.” Trump also inaccurately claimed that Grimm, a career official who joined OIG in 1999, was an Obama appointee.
Dan Levinson, a Bush appointee who served as HHS inspector general before stepping down last year, praised Grimm’s work to PULSE last month.
WHAT DID JOE BIDEN REALLY DO TO FIGHT H1N1? — The Democratic presidential candidate has pointed to the Obama administration’s handling of the 2009 flu outbreak as an example of how he’d better manage Covid-19 than Trump. But the Obama administration’s handling of the swine flu reveals snafus, scrambles and setbacks, POLITICO’s Natasha Korecki reports — including some of the same mixed messages that have dogged the Trump administration’s coronavirus response.
For instance, Biden warned on NBC’s “Today” in April 2009 he wouldn’t advise his family to fly on planes or ride the subway. The message conflicted with the reassurances offered by President Barack Obama a day earlier, and three cabinet officials were summoned to rapidly give a news conference that backed away from Biden’s claims.
BIDEN AND WARREN CALL FOR INCREASED OVERSIGHT OF COVID FUNDS — Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren teamed up on a joint op-ed that ran nationally in McClatchy news outlets, decrying Trump’s decisions that effectively reduced oversight of coronavirus rescue funds issued in March.
The one-time rivals for the Democratic nomination say they’re agreed on the need to strengthen protections for inspectors general, curb conflicts of interest and close lobbying loopholes.
“If Congress and the Trump administration are unwilling to act now, then we will ensure that these changes are made in January 2021, both through new legislation and immediate executive commitments made by the Biden administration,” Biden and Warren wrote. Democrats had insisted on safeguards over a $500 billion fund meant to support distressed industries and companies, but Trump immediately moved to ignore the measures.
CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS REJECT ALEX AZAR’s OFFER OF RAPID TESTING — The HHS secretary on Friday night announced that the chamber would receive three rapid-results testing machines and 1,000 tests, but by Saturday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had declined the offer.
“Congress is grateful for the Administration’s generous offer to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time,” McConnell and Pelosi said in a joint statement. “Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly.”
— The context: Senators are deeply anxious about returning to the Capitol amid the pandemic, and the White House had been facing criticism that it was getting better treatment than Congress.
A PUSH TO BUMP MEDICAID MATCHING FUNDS — Some lawmakers are joining Medicaid advocates and organizations like the National Governors Association to call for a nationwide 12 percent increase in the program’s federal medical assistance percentage, citing the spike in unemployment, the drain on state budgets and the expected demand for Medicaid services.
“States are grappling with both the increase in demand for Medicaid coverage due to COVID-19 and a budgetary crisis from their COVID-19 response and lost revenue,” Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) write in a bipartisan letter to congressional leaders, shared first with PULSE. “We request that you consider policies, like the FMAP increase, that would support state budgets as they grapple with the impact and costs of COVID-19.”
BIPARTISAN, BICAMERAL BILL WOULD BOOST R&D — Lawmakers are set to introduce the FORWARD Act today, which would expand access to research and development tax credits and is intended to encourage U.S. companies to pursue investments like vaccine development and medical countermeasures.
LACK OF PROTECTIVE GEAR, TESTING HINDERS HOME HEALTH — Some of the millions of patients relying on home health services don’t want their aides to come, fearing that they may inadvertently bring the coronavirus with them, POLITICO’s Joanne Kenen and Alice Miranda Ollstein report. Meanwhile, some of the low-paid, low-benefit home health aides — lacking personal protective equipment and ready access to testing — don’t necessarily want to go to work.
The situation has barely registered on the radar of the White House or national policymakers. “We’ve been begging the federal government to get them protective gear and testing but it just hasn’t come,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, which represents thousands of nonprofit elder care agencies and providers. “It’s a real shame, because lives have been lost.”
ZACK RODAY is joining Guidepost Strategies as a senior adviser, and will also work for Ascent Media. He was previously the communications director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans.
A Washington Post team digs into Trump’s efforts to reopen America amid the pandemic.
White House adviser Stephen Miller has used Covid-19 to push immigration restrictions, Caitlin Dickerson and Michael Shear report in the New York Times.
Gilead’s CEO said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that an antiviral that could help treat the coronavirus should arrive in U.S. hospitals this week.