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After Voting Drastic Cuts To CDC, GOP Senators Urge More Funding

Several Republican senators facing tough reelection races are now clamoring for more federal funds to deal with the new coronavirus outbreak.

But just a few years ago, those same lawmakers voted to repeal Obamacare, which would have slashed $1 billion in funds for the CDC's Prevention and Public Health Fund, including hundreds of millions set aside "for detecting and responding to infectious diseases and other public health threats."

Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said that $2.5 billion proposed by the Trump administration to deal with the coronavirus outbreak "may just be a down payment."

Earlier in the month, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) wrote a letter to congressional appropriators requesting "sufficient funding for both current and potential future efforts" to deal with outbreaks.

In response to questions about the coronavirus outbreak, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) bragged on Friday about the size of the CDC budget, saying Congress "actually increased Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health funding over the past number of years."

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) went so far as to ask the CDC to reimburse states and cities for efforts to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Yet all four of these senators, along with most Republicans in the Senate and Congress, voted in 2017 to take $1 billion away from the CDC's Prevention and Public Health Fund when they voted to repeal Obamacare.

That same year, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials warned of "dire consequences" if the fund were to be eliminated, saying core public health programs would cease to exist if the Republican-backed bill became law.

At the time, the senators defended their votes to repeal Obamacare and eliminate funds for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, with Ernst saying Obamacare was "not sustainable," McSally calling it the "wrong approach," Gardner calling it "simply unacceptable," and Tillis claiming his vote was part of an "obligation" to fix a broken health care system.

Ernst, Tillis, and Gardner were senators when they voted to do away with the Prevention and Public Health Fund, and McSally was a member of the House. Both the House and Senate versions of the repeal tried to eliminate the fund.

The House-backed bill passed by a 217-213 vote, with support from only Republicans. The repeal bill failed in a 49-51 vote in the Senate, with all 49 votes in support of the repeal coming from Republicans. No Democrats in the House or Senate voted for the repeal.

All four of these senators face tight reelection races in their respective states.

Polls in North Carolina, Arizona, and Colorado show Democratic challengers leading Tillis, McSally, and Gardner, respectively. In December, Ernst held a 47 percent to 41 percent lead over her likely Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield.

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning Democrats would need to flip at least four seats in order to gain control of the chamber. Democrats are also eyeing Maine, where Republican Sen. Susan Collins is seeking reelection, while Republicans hope to oust Sen. Doug Jones from his seat in Alabama.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization reported 87,137 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The CDC has confirmed 43 cases in the United States, resulting in two confirmed deaths.

In late February, the CDC issued a warning for communities to prepare for the spread of the outbreak. The warning came less than a day after Donald Trump claimed the outbreak was "under control."

The Trump administration has tried to downplay concerns about the outbreak, despite the warnings from experts about the spread of the virus.

The new coronavirus causes respiratory illness, with symptoms that include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The CDC recommends people avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth; avoid close contact with people who are sick; clean and disinfect frequently touched objects regularly; and wash hands regularly as the best preventive techniques, just as with any other flu.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

North Carolina Republicans Are Suffering An Identity Crisis

All eyes will be on North Carolina next year, when the Republican Party holds its 2020 convention in Charlotte to nominate President Donald Trump for a second term. In truth, though, the state has been the center of attention for a while because of the actions of party members — and the gaze has not been kind.

The North Carolina GOP realizes it has a problem, quite a few of them, and is busily trying to recover. But what’s the best path as the party tries to regain the trust of voters in a state that is a crucial battleground, one where independents are an important part of any winning coalition, and where millennials and Generation Z voters are fickle?

Standing firmly with the president, who won in 2016, will certainly solidify the base. For those voters, party and presidential loyalty might calm any doubts about scandals and missteps. But what about those still making up their minds?

One step for Republicans was electing a new party chair, lawyer Michael Whatley of Gastonia, to replace outgoing chairman Robin Hayes, indicted on bribery charges. Hayes had given up many of his day-to-day duties and had said he would not run for re-election; he and three co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.

On Whatley’s résumé is his role as a member of George W. Bush’s Florida recount team in 2000. That’s an interesting credential considering another of the state party’s challenges — charges of election fraud concerning the counting and collection of absentee ballots in North Carolina’s 9th District last fall. An operative for what looked to be winning GOP candidate Mark Harris has been charged, and a special election is next between Democrat Dan McCready and current Republican candidate Dan Bishop, who won the spot in a primary redo.

The playbook so far follows the Trump example of trying to move past old scandals quickly. Hayes left to positive comments on his strengthening the GOP’s power in the state. But the party’s current position is not quite as solid as it had been. Democrat Roy Cooper sits in the governor’s mansion, and though Republicans are still in the majority in both the House and Senate in Raleigh, they lost their supermajority in 2018, so they can no longer easily override every gubernatorial veto.

That scenario played out after Cooper vetoed a “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Act,” which would have penalized medical professionals for allowing a survivor of an abortion to die. Cooper had characterized the bill as unnecessary, as current legislation already protects those survivors, with most Democrats agreeing that the act would result in government interference in complicated medical situations and the doctor-patient relationship. Cooper’s veto held.

The situation is both complicated and very simple, with the North Carolina voter split mirroring the urban-rural divide across the country. In 2018, Republicans in the state suffered major losses in dense counties and big cities. For example, Democrats swept the county commissioner races in Mecklenburg County, Charlotte’s home.

Looking at the landscape of the population and voting preferences in North Carolina cities, the new GOP leadership has yet again promised more minority outreach, with appeals to family-oriented and faith issues. “Their urban outreach is zero,” Derek Partee, an African American and former vice chair of the 12th District GOP, said in The Charlotte Observer. “There isn’t a person of color in leadership positions.”

Because of this track record, characterized by criticism not just from political opponents but also from African Americans within the party, the latest professed efforts resembled parody or came off as insincere. Voters, particularly those who are poor, young, elderly and African American, have hardly forgotten GOP gerrymandering, now being fought in the courts, and repeated efforts to pass voter-ID restrictions.

The ambivalence about outreach is similar to the national Republican reset that wasn’t, with Trump’s often race-based appeals quieting the post-Barack Obamasoul-searching the GOP promised.

The re-election campaign of GOP Sen. Thom Tillis shows the back-and-forth of coming up with a winning strategy. Wary of a challenger from the right, Tillis is trying to show as little daylight between him and the president as possible, while his office churns out releases showing a more bipartisan side, listing collaborations with Democratic colleagues. (This week, it included presiding with Sen. Chris Coons over a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the state of patent eligibility in America.)

But the uncertain nature of the state means Democrats aren’t exactly in the clear. Cooper’s veto of the “Born Alive” bill might hurt him, despite supportive voters afraid that a bill like that would pave the way for abortion laws as restrictive as those being passed in other Southern states. Opposing the move are pro-life activists and voters, and politicians such as Bishop, who is accusing Democratic opponents of endorsing “infanticide.” North Carolina is still part of the Bible Belt, with deeply held religious beliefs informing the political choices of some voters.

Will the Republican rebranding in North Carolina work in time for a Trump repeat victory in 2020? The results in the September special election in the 9th District, tainted by gerrymandering that still favors the party, may provide only part of the answer.

More likely, even after Republicans arrive next year to party in a Democratic city where the mayor has had to defend her choice to welcome them, no one party will have all the answers.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. On June 11, she received a 2019 Dateline Award for excellence in journalism from the D.C. pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

IMAGE: Mark Harris, who stepped aside as Republican nominee in the NC-9 following exposure of a vote-rigging scandal that involved GOP operatives in his campaign.

Before Seeing Any Charges Or Evidence, Senate Republicans Vow To Acquit Trump

Senate Republicans have vowed that Trump will face no punishment if the House draws up articles of impeachment — no matter what the evidence shows,

The House has yet to begin impeachment proceedings, but if it were to file articles of impeachment, the Senate would then have to hold a trial to determine whether Trump is guilty of the charges and decide whether to remove him from office.

According to a report from The Hill newspaper published Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who runs the Senate with a 53-47 Republican majority in the chamber — would hold a sham trial that would acquit Trump of the charges, no matter what the charges are or how strong the evidence against Trump is.

McConnell and Senate Republicans “have the power to set the rules and ensure the briefest of trials,” and they are already set on the plan of dismissing impeachment proceedings, the Hill wrote.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn vowed that “nothing” would come of the House filing articles of impeachment.

“It would be defeated,” Cornyn promised, according to the Hill.

“I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the Hill.

However, there is a mountain of evidence already from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that shows Trump attempted to obstruct justice multiple times throughout his presidency by trying to squash Mueller’s inquiry.

Two presidents have already been impeached for similar obstruction charges, including former President Bill Clinton, who was impeached for lying about an affair. In fact, Graham himself voted to impeach Clinton.

Yet now, Graham and his other Republican Trump sycophants on Capitol Hill are abandoning any past principles they may have possessed to protect Trump.

“We have to perform our constitutional duty, but if people think that we’re going to try and create a theater that could give you the perception that this is a matter that rises to the level of Watergate, that’s nonsense,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) — who has capitulated to Trump at every turn — told the Hill.

Short-sighted Republicans, who have done everything in their power to excuse Trump’s bad behavior, simply don’t care about the frightening precedent they’re setting.

All they want is to appease the GOP base in a desperate attempt to hold onto power. It’s a dereliction of duty.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Tillis Wins North Carolina Senate Election

Republican Thom Tillis defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in North Carolina’s Senate election, according to the Associated Press. Tillis represents the 51st Senate seat for the GOP, clinching a majority in the next Congress.

This breaking news story will be updated.

Photo: Senate candidate Thom Tillis, left, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul talk to the assembled media as Sen. Paul makes a campaign appearance with Tillis at Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant October 1, 2014 in Raleigh, N.C. (Ethan Hyman/News & Observer/MCT)