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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Texas and Florida announced major rollbacks to their reopening strategy on Friday as coronavirus cases in the states skyrocket.

Both were among the first to reopen in the midst of the pandemic, against expert advice. In Texas, many restaurants, bars, and stores reopened on May 1; Florida establishments followed suit on May 18.

On Friday, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott backtracked, issuing an executive order closing down bars across the state and reducing indoor restaurant capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent. The order also closed rafting and tubing businesses, and mandated that most outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people obtain permission from local governments.

Abbott's announcement came after Texas set new records of confirmed virus cases for three days in a row, increasing from 5,489 new cases on Tuesday to 5,996 new cases on Thursday.

Some hospitals in Houston reached 97 percent capacity for their intensive care units as COVID-19 admissions spiked.

Abbott's executive order "is far too little too late," Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said on Friday in an email. "The dam has burst in Texas and now Texans are paying the price."

In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation suspended alcohol consumption at bars across the state, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday.

The decision came a day after Florida experienced a record-level of new coronavirus cases, reaching nearly 9,000 on Thursday.

The state's previous single-day record was 5,508 cases, which happened earlier this week.

Experts have warned for months about the dangers of reopening businesses before the virus was under control.

Reopening too quickly could lead to "suffering and death that could be avoided," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said at a May 12 Senate hearing. Fauci expressed concern that the nation would "start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks."

The World Health Organization also issued a warning, with Dr. Margaret Harris, part of the group's coronavirus response team, telling NPR, "What we are seeing is indeed, when people ease too quickly, that they do then see a rise in infections."

In addition to Texas and Florida, several other states that moved to reopen their economies quickly have experienced a spike in cases, including Arkansas, Arizona, and California.

Nationally, the United States reported record-high levels of new coronavirus cases on both Wednesday (38,115) and Thursday (39,327).

As of Friday morning, the United States had more than 2,435,200 confirmed cases, and at least 124,393 people have died.

Despite this, Republicans, including Donald Trump, have insisted that states begin to open up once more, in an attempt to revitalize the struggling economy.

"Exciting to see our Country starting to open up again!" Trump tweeted on May 5.

And on May 18, he tweeted simply, "REOPEN OUR COUNTRY!"

On June 22, Trump suggested that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic would be over soon and that the millions of Americans who had become unemployed would find work again soon as states began to reopen.

"And we've done a good job," he said, referring to his administration's slow response to the pandemic, "but now we're opening up our country and the jobs numbers are good. And they're coming back very fast."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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