Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday delivered a starkly negative assessment of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ability to deliver on his promises, faulting him for an “unconscionable delay” of President Barack Obama’s choice for attorney general and “inept leadership” that threatens a bipartisan trafficking bill.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest accused McConnell of breaking his commitment to give fair consideration to Loretta Lynch, Obama’s nominee for attorney general, and urged Republicans to stop “playing politics” with the post.

“There is no question that Republicans are playing politics with the nomination of the nation’s top law enforcement official, and it should come to an end,” he said.

In unusually pointed criticism of a congressional leader, Earnest also faulted McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, for a dispute over abortion that threatens to derail the otherwise bipartisan, popular bill to address sex trafficking.

Before the new Congress convened in January, the question of whether Obama and McConnell could forge a strong partnership was seen as key to the prospect of any major bipartisan legislation. When the two met after November’s midterm elections, both parties expressed confidence that they could find common ground on areas like trade and tax reform despite political differences on a host of other issues.

The relationship appears to already have hit a low. On Sunday, McConnell said on CNN that a vote to confirm Lynch could be delayed if Democrats continue to block further consideration of the trafficking bill. McConnell noted that Senate Democrats could have moved to confirm Lynch, now the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, when they still controlled the Senate last fall.

In response, Earnest noted that Obama, in a show of good faith, had agreed to McConnell’s request that consideration of Lynch be put off until this year. Earnest called it “unconscionable” that Lynch, whose nomination was recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, still has yet to receive an up-or-down vote by the full chamber.

“I get asked a lot about whether or not Senator McConnell was a man of his word and whether or not he’s willing to live up to commitments that he makes to the president of the United States,” Earnest said. “For him to suggest that, ‘Well, it hasn’t been that long, because Senate Democrats delayed introducing her until after the first of the year,’ that’s not a very good sign of faith.”

Earnest also held McConnell responsible for the impasse over abortion that has tied up what was expected to be swift approval of a bipartisan bill to give law enforcement new tools to target human trafficking and establish a $30 million victims’ fund.

Democrats say Republicans slipped in a provision to block the fund from being used to pay for abortion services without their knowledge. Republicans counter that Democrats should have been paying closer attention to the legislative language.

Earnest said McConnell should drop the abortion language to allow the bill to proceed, mocking the GOP for taking a “common-sense” bill and turning “it into partisan controversy.”

“That is not a reflection of a flaw in the bill. It’s a reflection of inept leadership,” he said. “The fact that Leader McConnell can’t build bipartisan support for a child sex-trafficking bill, I think is an indication that his leadership here in the majority is not off to a very strong start.”

Photo: Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.