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Intelligence disputes fuel rare public acrimony among Gang of Eight

The in-fighting has intensified so rapidly that Rubio even suggested this week that his committee’s annual hearing on global threats might not go on as planned, citing “heavy politicization.” The hearings allows members of the House and Senate intelligence panels to hear directly from the heads of the CIA, NSA and other agencies about the dangers posed by countries like Russia, Iran and China.

“It’s become harder to get to an agreement on a forum that doesn’t turn into a political circus,” Rubio said.

“Why would a career professional intelligence official at any level at this point want to be dragged into being turned into a political pretzel to further the narrative of one side or the other?” he added. “You would hope intelligence matters could be above it, but right now it isn’t.”

As the election nears, concerns about Russian interference via Ukrainian actors are reaching a crescendo among Democrats, who see an ongoing effort by the Kremlin to damage presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Recent revelations about Moscow’s intentions are causing Democrats to push the Trump administration for more direct, specific statements about the foreign-influence campaign.

Democrats have even suggested that senior intelligence officials might be facing politically motivated pressure on what to say in public statements, and when to say it, so as to not anger President Donald Trump.

The fundamental disagreement between the Democratic and Republican sides of the Gang of Eight centers on how much information about foreign threats should be made public. While Democrats have urged more transparency, Republicans have warned about the potentially dangerous precedent that would set. As a result, the Democratic and Republican sides of the group have issued dueling statements and demands on subjects on which they are normally unified.

In 2016, the group clashed over whether to issue a statement denouncing Russia early on for its interference in the presidential campaign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a Gang of Eight member, reportedly refused to sign onto it, and the statement was never released.

The latest dispute began after the Democratic half of the Gang of Eight, which includes Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), released a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray last week demanding a briefing for all lawmakers centering on unspecified threats to the integrity of the 2020 election.

POLITICO later reported that those threats mentioned in a separate classified letter included concerns about Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) investigations targeting Biden and his son, and efforts by Russian-aligned Ukrainians to influence GOP lawmakers with Kremlin-backed disinformation. Johnson has since responded to the claims, accusing Democrats in a scathing new letter of running their own disinformation campaign to undermine and discredit his investigations.

Republicans dismissed the Democratic letter as a partisan effort and said they were never asked to join the Democrats’ calls for a congressional briefing. Democrats have a political incentive to speak up, given that their presidential candidate is allegedly the target of a Russian disinformation campaign.

The House Intelligence Committee voted on Wednesday to give all House members access to the classified portion of the Democrats’ letter to Wray.

Biden last week threatened to hold the Kremlin and other foreign governments accountable for any interference if he is elected president, reflecting a growing concern not only about Trump’s unwillingness to commit to not accepting foreign help in the election, but also about what his campaign and members of Congress view as an escalating disinformation campaign emerging out of Ukraine.

Later in the week, William Evanina, the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and the country’s top counterintelligence official, released a “100 days” statement on Friday warning of foreign election interference. This statement became yet another point of contention between Democrats and Republicans on the Gang of Eight.

“With just over 100 days until the election, it is imperative that we also share insights with the American public about foreign threats to our election and offer steps to citizens across the country to build resilience and help mitigate these threats,” the statement read.

It cited unspecified influence operations and disinformation campaigns being waged by China, Russia, and Iran and encouraged Americans “to consume information with a critical eye,” “practice good cyber hygiene and media literacy” and “report suspicious election-related activity to authorities.”

The statement provoked an immediate reaction from Democratic half of the Gang of Eight — which also includes House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — who along with their Republican counterparts had been briefed by Evanina on the foreign interference intelligence two days earlier.

Some Democrats were skeptical to begin with about the usefulness of a 100-days statement, said people familiar with their thinking, and urged Evanina to be specific about the Russia threat if he insisted on making public comments about the interference campaign. They were ultimately disappointed and thought the statement failed to reflect the acuteness of the Russians’ efforts that Evanina had conveyed to the Gang of Eight privately, the people said.

That led the Democratic half of the Gang of Eight to issue another joint statement, slamming Evanina’s declaration as “so generic as to be almost meaningless” and giving “a false sense of equivalence to the actions of foreign adversaries by listing three countries of unequal intent, motivation and capability together.”

Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), who supported Evanina’s Senate confirmation to his current role, suggested that Evanina might be facing politically motivated pressure on what to say in public statements.

“I think [Evanina] is somebody who really wants to do the right thing,” Warner said. “I think there’s pressure inside the administration about how much information to reveal. … I want to make sure that he is fully empowered to do his job, which means we need to make sure the Senate and the American public are informed.”

Representatives for Warner and Schumer declined to comment on the senators’ interactions with Evanina.

Rubio and McConnell quickly pushed back on the Democrats’ characterization of Evanina’s statement, calling their response an attack that “baselessly impugns” Evanina’s character “and politicizes intelligence matters.”

The back-and-forth only helps adversaries trying to exploit partisan divisions in the U.S., while depriving the intelligence community of comprehensive oversight, said former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who was a member of the Gang of Eight in his capacity as House Intelligence Committee chairman from 2011-2015.

“The truth is we have nation states who are looking at this dysfunction and engaging in activities that could threaten our election and they’re not going to pick a team,” Rogers said. “When the committees get this dysfunctional and when these people decide to litigate in public, you have to ask yourself, who are they helping?”

“You don’t try to fight out these issues in dueling press releases,” Rogers said. “You bring it up in a classified setting. And this is exactly why the IC isn’t getting proper oversight — no one in the community wants to brief these committees because it’s a revolving door to the public.”

Martin Matishak contributed to this report.

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COVID-19 in Illinois updates: Here’s what’s happening Wednesday

Later on Wednesday, the Illinois High School Association put the football season on ice due to continuing concerns surrounding the pandemic. According to a new plan introduced by the IHSA, there will be a streamlined football season from Feb. 15 to May 1. The only fall sports in 2020 the IHSA plans to conduct are boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming.

Pritzker also announced that youth sports and adult recreational leagues in Illinois will be further limited under stricter state rules in an effort to slow the spread of the virus after outbreaks of the illness have been tied to organized sports. The new guidelines apply to school sports, travel teams, private and recreational leagues and clubs, and park district programs, but not to professional and collegiate sports.

Here’s what’s happening Wednesday regarding COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:

6 p.m.: Local Catholic school students face a tough choice: a full return to in-person instruction or remote learning, possibly by an outside vendor

With the start of classes just about a month away, many parents at Chicago-area Catholic schools are facing a tough decision: commit their children to five days of in-person instruction, or opt for more e-learning, possibly conducted by a third-party vendor.

The Archdiocese of Chicago announced reopening plans for its school system in early July, calling for a full return to in-person classes, paired with safety measures like that include face coverings and daily temperature checks.

Any families who aren’t comfortable sending their students back to the classrooms will have the option to continue remote learning, said Jim Rigg, superintendent of archdiocesan schools, which combined have more than 70,000 students in Cook and Lake counties. But as of Wednesday officials had not finalized any remote learning plans.

As in the public schools, plans to restart in-person instruction have been met with a range of reactions: Some families are pleased to see schools fully reopening with public health protocols in place. Other teachers and parents contacted by the Tribune said they have serious concerns about the safety of in-person instruction and what they see as insufficient options for remote learning.

5:21 p.m.: Coronavirus aid package talks stalemate as Trump scorns relief for cash-strapped cities

President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands for aid to cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republican allies as talks stalemated over assistance for millions of Americans.

Republicans, beset by delays and infighting, signaled a willingness to swiftly approve a modest package to prevent a $600 weekly unemployment benefit from expiring Friday. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., roundly rejected that approach as meager, all but forcing Republicans back to the negotiating table.

“As of now, we’re very far apart,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the White House’s top negotiator.

Stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counter from Republicans putting aid for millions of communities at risk. Money for states and cites is a crucial dividing line as local governments plead for help to shore up budgets and prevent deeper municipal layoffs as they incur COVID-19 costs and shutdown economies.

Trump complained about sending “big bailout money” to the nation’s cities, whose mayors he often criticizes.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” he said at the White House.

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments, but Trump and Republicans are resisting sending the states and cities more cash.

Instead, the GOP offers states flexibility to more broadly use an earlier $150 billion allotment that had been restricted to virus-only needs. At one point this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said states could just declare bankruptcy.

Governors and mayors who have been urging Congress for help, warned the failure to act would hit hard in local communities.

4:43 p.m.: US death toll from the coronavirus hits 150,000 

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

3:40 p.m.: Navy Pier lays off employees amid COVID-19 slowdown

When Navy Pier reopened to the public June 10, it was early to do so among Chicago attractions, but it was also in a limited fashion.

Parking in the pier garage, normally an arm and a leg, was reduced to free or, in the metaphor, zero body parts. Indoor spaces and attractions like the Chicago Children’s Museum and Shakespeare Theater remained closed. The carousel did not whirl and the Ferris wheel did not spin.

Those mostly unavoidable compromises appear to have taken their toll. The pier this week laid off 11 administrative workers and 9 tradespeople, or more than 25 percent of full-time staff, President and CEO Marilynn Gardner said, amid a general economic malaise at the popular tourist destination.

There are essentially no tourists.

“Since reopening, we’ve been fortunate to welcome 335,000 people, but that’s compared to 2.4 million last year” in the same time period, said Gardner. “That’s 14 percent.”

3:34 p.m.: IHSA pushes football, some other fall sports to spring 2021

The long wait regarding the fate of high school football this fall is over. The decision? The kids will have to wait longer to take the field.

The Illinois High School Association on Wednesday put the football season — at least in the traditional sense — on ice due to continuing concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a new plan introduced by the IHSA, there will be a streamlined football season from Feb. 15 to May 1.

The only fall sports in 2020 the IHSA plans to conduct, starting Aug. 10 and ending Oct. 17, are boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming.

2:51 p.m.: Two large Illinois teachers unions threaten ‘health and safety strikes’ without adequate school COVID protections

Illinois teachers and other school employees could strike if school districts implement in-person learning without meeting safety measures outlined by government entities or medical professionals, two of the largest teachers unions in the state in a joint statement Wednesday.

The Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers — representing around 238,000 employees in public and private schools, colleges and universities in the state, including Chicago Public Schools teachers — said they will pursue whatever means necessary to ensure that schools have adequate safety protections.

“No avenue or action is off the table — the courts, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board – nothing, including health and safety strikes,” the statement said.

2:28 p.m.: Traveling outside Illinois? Chicago residents must quarantine after visiting 22 states. Here’s what you need to know to avoid a large fine.

Vacations, rarely cheap, soon could get a whole lot more expensive for rule-bucking Chicago residents.

According to an order from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s health department, those who travel to any of the 22 states deemed a COVID-19 risk must implement a mandatory two-week quarantine upon their return or face hefty fines. The original order, which named 15 states where COVID-19 cases were spiking, was announced right before the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, catching off-guard many Chicagoans who already made plans to travel out of state.

Lightfoot’s administration Tuesday added Wisconsin, as well as three other states, to the list of 22 states considered risky enough to warrant self-quarantine because they had an average of more than 15 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 resident population over a rolling seven-day period. Any state that in the previous week had an infection rate greater than that will be added to the evolving list each Tuesday and the emergency travel order goes into effect the newly-added states the following Friday.

1:58 p.m.: Pritzker warns of a possible ‘reversal’ as COVID-19 numbers rise

Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned on Wednesday that Illinois could be headed for a “reversal” in its reopening as the state continues to see a resurgence in coronavirus case numbers, and he called on residents to “defend our progress.”

If the trend continues or worsens, it could mean clamping back down in regions of the state on business restrictions, gatherings or even a return to a stay-at-home order, which Pritzker initially imposed in March, but since eased.

“We’ve made progress in Illinois, but we’ve also seen that it can be fleeting. And right now things are not headed in the right direction. I want to remind everyone that it doesn’t take long at all for a trajectory of success to turn into rising hospitalizations and deaths,” Pritzker said. “And if things don’t change, a reversal is where we’re headed.”

1:41 p.m.: Wendella suspends Chicago Water Taxi service for the rest of the year

Wendella Sightseeing Co. suspended its Chicago Water Taxi service for the rest of the year after determining its coronavirus restrictions wouldn’t work for the bright yellow commuter boats.

Since resuming its tour boat operations last month, Wendella put in place various safety measures like requiring guests to wear a face covering, not accepting cash transactions, limiting seating capacity and installing hand sanitizer stations on all its vessels. It also requires employees to wear face masks and gloves, and takes their temperatures when they arrive to work, according to Wendella’s website.

But those same safety measures aren’t practicable for Chicago Water Taxi boats, which carry commuters during rush hour around the Loop, because it would be hard to clean the boats at each stop, said Andrew Sargis, chief of operations for Chicago Water Taxi.

1:37 p.m.: Sketchbook Brewing launches ambitiously in Skokie on Friday in shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic

Sketchbook Brewing is betting big on itself. It is betting big on Skokie.

Rather than hope to pack in upward of 280 people when its sprawling 4,000-square-foot taproom opens Friday at 4901 Main St., Sketchbook will restrict capacity to 50. Tables will be spaced well more than 6 feet apart.

A pandemic was miles from anyone’s consciousness when Sketchbook began looking two years ago to expand beyond its original location in neighboring Evanston.

But pandemic or not, Sketchbook co-founders Cesar Marron and Shawn Decker are optimistic that boosting production, and doing it more cheaply due to increased scale, will serve modern times well. Canned beer sales have skyrocketed since people have mostly stayed home in recent months.

But COVID-19 has also injected uncertainty. The vision of having customers linger for hours over beers, games and conversation is in peril — at least in the short term.

“There was no way we could suddenly change our plans,” Decker said. “We’re just hoping that the business model is robust enough to survive.”

1:27 p.m.: As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, misinformation on the coronavirus is proving highly contagious

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight to the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry that the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, which has been blamed for about 150,000 deaths in the U.S. and over a half-million more around the world.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem., said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

1:25 p.m.: Inside Eddie Goldman’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns

After the initial gut punch, after the natural disappointment and the sudden concern for how Eddie Goldman’s decision will affect one of the NFL’s top defenses, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace quickly found his way to acceptance. So did coach Matt Nagy.

Both men were bummed to learn of Goldman’s surprise decision this week to opt out of the 2020 season because of concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the Bears wanted to make certain Goldman had thought through everything, detailing for him all the changes to Halas Hall and the precautions the organization is taking to safeguard their work environment, in the end they had to respect his choice.

“You just recognize this is personal for everyone,” Pace said Wednesday morning. “And you’re just very respectful and supportive of that decision. Both Matt and I talked to Eddie. We relayed that to him. Eddie is an important part of our team and our family. And we’re going to welcome him back at the appropriate time.”

Added Nagy: “We completely support him. I think that’s very important for everybody to understand. And he knew that right away. We told him we support him.”

12:30 p.m.: Pritzker lays out new restrictions on youth sports

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that his administration is further restricting youth and adult recreational sports, after COVID-19 outbreaks have been tied to organized sports leagues.

Pritzker’s administration is releasing new guidance that classify sports as low, medium and higher risk, depending on the level of contact between participants, and potential for coronavirus transmission, involved.

The new restrictions do not include professional or collegiate-level sports. The new state guidance includes school-based sports, private and recreational leagues and park district sports programs.

”With rising rates of spread of the virus, with rising positivity rates throughout Illinois and the entire United States, this is a situation where the toughest choice is also the safest choice,” Pritzker said Wednesday at a news briefing in Chicago.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Wednesday announced 1,393 new confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide, and 18 additional deaths. The statewide totals now stand at 175,124 cases and 7,462 deaths since the pandemic began.

12:25 p.m.: Chicago food pantries anticipate more need as unemployment benefits end: ‘It’s been a roller coaster’

With a federal supplement to unemployment benefits expiring and no guarantee of another coronavirus relief package as unemployment remains high, Chicago residents will keep needing food. Local pantries are bracing for it.

“We’re going to see a bad situation get a lot worse here in the next few weeks,” said Greg Trotter, spokesperson for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. “The need is still just as high as we’ve ever seen it.”

Most food banks affiliated with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Northern Illinois Food Bank have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some locations were forced to close as food prices increased, older volunteers could no longer work and churches closed buildings.

About 75% of food pantries are open as part of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, a network of more than 700 food programs in Cook County. The Northern Illinois Food Bank, which supplies food through about 900 programs in other Chicago-area counties, has at least 90% of its food pantries open. About 70% of its soup kitchens are open, a lower number because of social distancing guidelines.

11:15 a.m.: State Board of Elections’ Springfield office closes after staff member tests positive for COVID-19, several others show symptoms

The Illinois State Board of Elections closed its Springfield office Tuesday for at least a week after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to an agency spokesperson.

The board was notified Sunday that a staff member was showing coronavirus symptoms and had been tested after coming into contact with someone infected with it, the Illinois Times first reported. Test results came back positive Tuesday, which is when the office decided to close until at least Aug. 7, according to Matt Dietrich, a state board spokesperson.

Several other staff members began showing symptoms on Monday and Tuesday and have been tested, Dietrich said in an email.”

Pending those results, we are initiating procedures to have the office disinfected and thoroughly cleaned prior to staff returning to the office,” he said.

8:30 a.m.: How a German company with US headquarters in Chicago is tracking players’ daily interactions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in team facilities

After Bears players are cleared with three negative COVID-19 test results this week, they will enter Halas Hall for the first time this year.

But before they can dress at their socially distanced lockers each day for training camp, they will stop at a station to pick up a new piece of equipment that will be used during all team activities this summer.

The device is a proximity recorder made by Kinexon, a German company that operates its U.S. headquarters in the Chicago Loop. The system, called SafeZone, will assist NFL teams with physical distancing and contact tracing initiatives as they try to prevent the coronavirus from spreading through their facilities.

All team personnel will wear the lightweight SafeTag sensors on a wristband or lanyard within the facility and during team travel, and players will also have them in their jerseys during practices.

6:53 a.m.: Illinois High School Association expected to announce decision on high school sports

Illinois high school athletes were expected to learn Wednesday whether fall sports seasons will be played in the sate.

The Illinois High School Association announced last week that its regularly scheduled Board of Directors meeting would be postponed until Wednesday. Before the meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, IHSA officials planned to discuss their plans with leaders from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education.

“We expect this meeting will provide important guidance on how the IHSA will proceed with fall sports,” Craig Anderson, the IHSA’s executive director, said last week.

Dealing with coronavirus safety concerns remains the top priority, according to the IHSA.

Check back for updates on the IHSA’s decision.

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Here are five things that happened Tuesday regarding COVID-19.

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Left wing to Biden: Keep industry captains off transition team

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the letter’s demands which would likely block scores of Democrats from the transition and a potential Biden administration.

Biden’s team has been doing a delicate dance with the left as he tries to unite the party without alienating moderate voters. He has moved left on several policy issues but also pushed back on proposals such as defunding police. Biden’s vice presidential selection, expected next week, is another test of how much clout some of these groups have.

The left in many ways is replicating its efforts from 2016. Many of the letter’s signees sent a similar missive to Hillary Clinton’s transition team. The Sanders-blessed organization Our Revolution was created with the expectation that it would focus on trying to influence a Clinton administration.

Warren was aggressive in lobbying the Clinton transition on personnel, particularly on issues involving ethics and ties to private industry. Warren, who is under consideration to be vice president, did not respond for comment when asked whether she supports the current letter. A top Warren adviser, Julie Siegel, is serving on Biden’s transition team.

Progressives started to focus on transition personnel after 2008, when they felt Barack Obama hired too many people with close ties to industry and Wall Street.

“Too often, the teams crafting incoming administrations have been stacked with figures who work for corporate interests, undermining the frameworks that make way for collective prosperity,” the signees wrote. “Unsurprisingly, the resultant administrations overwhelmingly reflect this inherent conflict of interest.”

Some on the left were heartened when Biden appointed former Delaware senator and longtime Biden adviser Ted Kaufman to head the transition effort given his tough-on-Wall Street approach during the Great Recession. Last month, Kaufman released a statement that the transition’s core values included a “diversity of ideology and background,” “transparency” and “the highest ethical standards to serve the American people and not special interests.”

The signees also sent the letter to the Trump campaign. Spokesperson Courtney Parella did not did not address its demands but argued that “Biden has been the king of corruption for years with his family cashing in on his positions in public office,” pointing to his son Hunter and brother James. “If Joe Biden were in the White House, it would be more of the same corruption we have seen for decades.”

The letter’s signees, however, argued that Trump had exacerbated Washington corruption despite promises to “drain the swamp.”

“Throughout the last four years, the public has been subjected to a never ending parade of conflicted appointees who have enthusiastically set about rolling back the regulations that once restrained their former (and likely future) employers’ most destructive impulses,” they wrote. “While corporate interests benefit from this regime, the American public suffers.”

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Louie Gohmert: Mask-shunning lawmaker catches Covid-19

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Image caption

Mr Gohmert removed his mask during a nearly five-hour hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday

A Texas congressman who is often seen around the Capitol without a mask has tested positive for coronavirus.

Republican Louie Gohmert was due to fly with President Donald Trump to Texas on Wednesday and was routinely tested as part of White House travel protocol.

Mr Gohmert was pictured mingling with other officials on Tuesday during a hearing on Capitol Hill while not wearing a mask or socially distancing.

The US has now passed 150,000 Covid-19 deaths and 4.3 million infections.

Democrats in Congress say they are considering mandatory testing.

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Media captionDr Anthony Fauci: “It’s not helpful” to give signals about not wearing a mask

“Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louie Gohmert,” House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Wednesday.

He added that Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, are discussing whether to require testing for lawmakers entering the Capitol complex.

Six members of that chamber and one senator have so far tested positive for coronavirus.

After his positive test, Mr Gohmert, an eighth-term lawmaker, returned to his office to inform his staff in person of the positive result. He wore a mask during the meeting, according to US media.

He also gave an interview in which he questioned whether his mask was to blame for infecting him.

“I can’t help but wonder if by keeping a mask on and keeping it in place, I might have put some germs – some virus – on to the mask and breathed it in,” he told Texas station KETK.

Despite mixed messages early in the pandemic, public health experts now agree that wearing face coverings greatly reduces the spread of Covid-19, and is vital to controlling the infection’s spread.

On Tuesday, Mr Gohmert frequently removed his mask during a nearly five-hour hearing with Attorney General William Barr.

A photo on Twitter shows the two men in proximity, neither wearing masks. According to the Department of Justice, Mr Barr will be tested for Covid-19 as a result of the interaction.

Democratic congressman Jerrold Nadler, who led the hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted his well wishes to Mr Gohmert.

“I want to wish @replouiegohmert a full & speedy recovery,” Mr Nadler wrote. “When individuals refuse to take the necessary precautions it puts everyone at risk. I’ve regularly instructed all Members to wear their masks and hope this is a lesson by all my colleagues.”

In Tuesday’s hearing, Mr Nadler named three Republicans by name – Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs and Mike Johnson – for “violating the safety of the members of the committee… by refusing to wear their masks”.

It is unclear where Mr Gohmert plans to quarantine because is among several congressman who sleep in their offices while in Washington, according to Roll Call.

The US now has more than 4.3 million reported cases of Covid-19 and is approaching 150,000 deaths.

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Louie Gohmert, who refused to wear a mask, tests positive for coronavirus

Reps. Mario Diaz Balart (R-Fla.), Neal Dunn (R-Fla.), Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Tom Rice (R-S.C.) have tested positive for the virus, along with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

In May, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) turned down the administration’s offer of rapid testing for the Capitol. Some lawmakers — mostly Republicans — decline to use face coverings while in the building.

Gohmert attended Tuesday’s blockbuster House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General William Barr in person, where lawmakers were seated at some distance from one another.

But footage from before the hearing shows Gohmert and Barr walking together in close contact, with neither wearing a mask.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Barr will be tested for coronavirus on Wednesday.

At one point in Tuesday’s hearing, Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) chastised several Republicans for taking off their masks, though Gohmert was not among those he scolded.

“I would remind Mr. Jordan, Mr. Biggs and Mr. Johnson to stop violating the rules of the committee,” Nadler said, referring to Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson, three GOP lawmakers. “To stop violating the safety of the members of the committee. To stop holding themselves out as not caring by refusing to wear their masks.”

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Gohmert’s coronavirus case sparks renewed debate over Capitol protocols

So far, congressional leaders in both chambers have refused to implement routine testing for lawmakers, even rejecting an offer from the administration to supply rapid tests for members to use. And some senior aides have privately questioned how leadership would require tests when they can’t even get every member to wear a mask.

But some senior lawmakers have continued to push their leaders to adopt a more frequent testing regimen. That includes Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said Wednesday that he’s told GOP leaders that all members should be tested when they return to the Capitol after a recess “so we’re not carriers coming back and forth.”

“I have said for weeks that I think it’s a good idea for us to be tested,” Alexander added.

While House Democrats implemented proxy voting in an effort to discourage at-risk members from flying back and forth to Washington, Republicans have refused to participate. The result is hundreds of lawmakers traveling from across the country — many coming from hot spots like Florida, Texas and Arizona — to vote and attend committee hearings in person.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi instituted a series of safety measures last month for when lawmakers are inside the Capitol, including a mandate to wear masks during committee hearings and encouraging masks anytime they are in the House chamber, though not all Republicans abide by those rules.

Both chambers also require members to vote in smaller groups to limit the number of people on the floor and frequently sanitize podiums and microphones. The House’s rules, overall, go further than the Senate’s; Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the use of proxy voting on the floor.

But unlike several state legislatures, members and staff are not required to have their temperatures checked before entering the sprawling Capitol complex, nor are they required to be tested for the virus. Even during the previous coronavirus lockdowns across the country, hundreds of people streamed in and out of congressional buildings daily.

Members can get tested through the Capitol physician’s office, and those tests are more available now than they were in the early weeks of the pandemic, lawmakers and aides say.

Hoyer scorched Republicans like Gohmert for not following the guidance of the Capitol physician, including wearing masks, and said more may need to be done because of that to keep other lawmakers and staffers safe.

“Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louie Gohmert. Louie Gohmert ought to quarantine himself right now,” Hoyer said.

Gohmert is one of several Republicans who has openly flouted the request for members to wear masks, despite nine lawmakers testing positive for the coronavirus in recent months. Dozens of staff inside the building, including Capitol Police officers, have also tested positive. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters Gohmert was asymptomatic.

Democrats have publicly rebuked GOP colleagues in recent weeks who have refused to wear masks, at times leading to tense confrontations during hearings. Just on Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler implored some Republicans to follow the rules and wear their mask while in the hearing room with Attorney General William Barr — which several, including ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), openly ignored.

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Trump: Policy shift will keep low-income housing out of suburbs

“Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!” he continued, referring to the Obama-era policy.

The 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule requires local governments to proactively ensure fair housing in order to receive federal housing funding. It was designed to give more teeth to the Fair Housing Act in combating segregation and was praised by civil rights groups at the time.

But conservative critics and the Trump administration decried the parameters as unnecessarily laborious. The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last week a replacement policy that essentially leaves localities to self-certify that housing is affordable and free of discrimination — a significant scale-down of the Obama-era rule.

“After reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed changes to the [AFFH] regulation, we found it to be unworkable and ultimately a waste of time for localities to comply with, too often resulting in funds being steered away from communities that need them most,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said last week.

Trump has been giving more of his attention to the suburbs ahead of the November presidential election, portraying rival Democratic candidate Joe Biden as hostile to suburbanites. He accused Biden and other Democrats of trying to “abolish” suburbs and tweeted Thursday at “The Suburban Housewives of America” that “Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!”

Still, Trump’s call out toward suburbanites doesn’t appear to be driving up his appeal. Polls have Trump trailing behind Biden in the suburbs by large margins, and suburban areas largely carried Democrats to a majority in the House in 2018.

Trump’s Wednesday tweets were immediately met with stiff criticism.

“Oh my. I mean, it’s not even a dog whistle anymore,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote on Twitter. “Our President is now a proud, vocal segregationist.”

Former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, who served as HUD secretary under Obama when the 2015 AFFH rule was created, also shot back at Trump, tweeting: “Just because people are poor doesn’t mean they’re bad. That’s obvious to most, but not to bigots like” Trump.

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Twitter discovers ‘Settle for Biden’ campaign to lure in Sanders & Warren supporters – and can’t tell if it’s a joke — RT USA News

The revelation of a campaign that seeks to persuade leftist Americans to park their progressive reservations about Joe Biden and vote for him in an all-out bid to block Donald Trump’s reelection has perplexed many Dems online.

The campaign called“Settle for Biden” appears to have launched in May, based on when they started their social media accounts and website, but was revealed more widely online in a tweet on Tuesday by a skeptical Twitter user. The group describes itself as a “grassroots” organization comprised “primarily” of former Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters.

According to its website, Settle for Biden believes that the former vice president is running on “the most progressive platform in American history.”

Leftist Twitter seemed to be having none of it, though, and even the author of the tweet that brought the campaign to the attention of the wider public called it a “self-parody.” Moreover, some commenters pointed out that the overt demand to ‘settle’ for Biden is, in itself, “saying the quiet part loudly” about the Democrat’s policies.

One jokester proposed “Biden the bullet” as a stronger slogan for the campaign, while another underscored the seemingly lackluster energy behind the Settle for Biden campaign.

Many people, though, simply could not believe that the campaign is real.

Some, however, respected that the campaign was “being forthright” and “gave it points for being honest.”

Since progressive Democratic presidential candidate Sanders failed to secure the party’s nomination for the 2020 election, many of his supporters have been frank in their disappointment in seeing Biden as the presumptive nominee. Sanders has been trying to combat the lack of enthusiasm for Biden by giving him lengthy endorsements, and even saying that he would be the most progressive president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.



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Live Updates: Protests For Racial Justice : NPR

Federal officers deploy tear gas and crowd control munitions at demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Tuesday in Portland, Ore.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP


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Federal officers deploy tear gas and crowd control munitions at demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Tuesday in Portland, Ore.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that U.S. agents who were sent to protect a federal courthouse in Portland from demonstrators will begin departing on Thursday.

“After my discussions with VP Pence and others, the federal government has agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland,” the Democratic governor said on Twitter. “They have acted as an occupying force & brought violence. Starting tomorrow, all Customs and Border Protection & ICE officers will leave downtown Portland.”

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said he and Brown have been in regular communication over the last 24 hours, but added there would still be a “robust presence” of Oregon State Police in the area until it is clear federal properties in the city are safe.

“The Department will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure,” Wolf said in a statement.

He added that Oregon State Police will work with Federal Protective Service officials to ensure federal properties are safeguarded.

President Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that federal agents would not leave Portland until state and local officials had “secured their city.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported earlier that Oregon state and Portland officials were in “very serious conversations” with the Trump administration to recall the federal agents.

In recent days demonstrations in Oregon’s most populous city have turned violent, with reports of some in the crowd throwing bottles, firing mortar-style fireworks over a metal barricade and clashing with federal agents sent to protect the federal courthouse and other properties.

Federal agents have used tactics including flash grenades, pepper spray and pepper balls as well as batons to disperse crowds.

U.S. agents had also been deployed to Seattle to safeguard federal property there but have since been withdrawn, according to city and state officials.

Officials in both Oregon and in Washington state denounced the deployments and said their presence would ratchet up tensions with protesters.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, both Democrats, said the mayor “received confirmation that the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Patrol Tactical Unit has demobilized and left.”

“This demobilization means Washingtonians no longer have to worry about the White House’s aim to provoke confrontation and undermine peaceful protests,” Inslee said.

“Those peacefully protesting have raised the public’s consciousness of the urgent need for racial justice, and I have no doubt they will continue to use their voices to call for action.”

Mayor Durkan added that policing decisions in her city should be left up to Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks earlier this month at a news conference. Durkan and the governor of Washington state said U.S. officers sent to protect federal buildings in the city have since left.

Ted S. Warren/AP


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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks earlier this month at a news conference. Durkan and the governor of Washington state said U.S. officers sent to protect federal buildings in the city have since left.

Ted S. Warren/AP

“The president’s actions to target and ‘dominate’ Democratic cities through the use of federal forces is chilling. It has increased violence in Portland, Seattle and other cities across the country, which was what the president intended,” she said.

The recalling of federal troops in Seattle followed a contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where Attorney General William Barr railed against protesters and said that “federal courts are under attack.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee chairman, pushed back on Barr’s characterization of the protests.

“The protesters aren’t mobs — they’re mothers and veterans and mayors,” Nadler said. The chairman added that real leadership should involve deescalation; “instead you use pepper spray and truncheons on American citizens.”

The attorney general rejected that and cited numbers of police and federal officers who were injured while carrying out their duties.

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Trump, Mnuchin float short-term deal as relief talks stall


President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday suggested passing a short-term extension on federal unemployment benefits and moratorium on evictions, amid mounting pressure on Washington to do something before millions lose aid.

In remarks outside of the White House, Trump and Mnuchin acknowledged that the administration and Democrats remain far apart on any kind of deal, with the Senate GOP still divided over its own $1 trillion-plus opening bid. But Trump emphasized that halting evictions — and keeping people in their homes amid a global pandemic — should be a priority.

“We ought to work on the evictions so that people don’t get evicted,” Trump said. “You work on the payments for the people, and the rest of it we’re so far apart we don’t care. We really don’t care.”

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows added Wednesday that he saw no deal possible on a package by the end of this week.

"I don’t see any way to get a comprehensive deal by the end of this month and it’s why the president is looking to extend unemployment benefits in some fashion as well as eviction protection," Meadows told POLITICO. "Because we are way too far apart to reach a deal by the end of the month."

The president’s support for a short-term deal — which has appeared less of a priority for Senate Republicans so far — comes as the extra $600-per-week boost in federal unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans expires Friday. That benefit, which Congress passed in March as part of the CARES Act, also included a moratorium on evictions, which expired this past weekend.

Senate Republicans did show some openness to the idea Wednesday. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said that if it’s not clear a deal can be reached by the end of next week, "we’ll have to go to plan B." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) conceded that a short-term deal "may be what we have to do until we figure out the final outlines of a more permanent approach."

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already rejected a "piecemeal" approach and Senate Democrats Wednesday signaled little appetite to the idea.

"[McConnell] seemed to not care in the least about a lapse in benefits," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "And that is where things are right now."

Democrats have long pushed to halt evictions as the pandemic rages on, and to keep the additional $600 in benefits through at least the end of the year. But Republicans, who released their own proposal Monday, argue that the extra unemployment aid disincentivizes work. Instead, the Senate GOP is pushing to reduce that extra $600 to a temporary, flat payment of $200 for 60 days to allow state systems to then offer a 70 percent wage replacement.

Democrats and Republicans are in such conflict on the next coronavirus aid package that both Mnuchin and Meadows have suggested a so-called “skinny” deal, which would tackle narrower issues one a time.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to meet again with Mnuchin and Meadows on Wednesday afternoon, the third straight day of face-to-face meetings. But so far, there’s little sign of progress on an agreement to deliver much-need relief to millions of out-of-work Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday blamed Pelosi on the Senate floor for refusing to negotiate on the unemployment aid, suggesting the House “will not let a package go forward unless we continue paying people more not to work.”

“When it’s time to actually make a law, Democrats would rather keep political issues alive than find a bipartisan way to resolve them,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Schumer shot back at McConnell, saying “the fact that Leader McConnell would even consider the idea that a political party might deny support for the American people in order to help win an election says more about the Republican leader than anybody else.”

One of the biggest issues in the negotiations is the price tag. Democrats are pushing for the $3 trillion Heroes Act which passed the House in May. Senate Republicans skittish about rising deficits, meanwhile, want to keep the package at close to $1 trillion. Another sticking point is state and local aid. Democrats are pushing for close to $1 trillion in state and local money, which Republicans oppose. Republicans instead are pushing for more state flexibility on the use of the funds.

Republicans are highlighting a new report from the Treasury Department Inspector General that showed that about three quarters of the money granted hasn’t been distributed to local and municipal governments. Instead, the data and media reports from different states suggest governors are keeping tight control over the bulk of the funds.

McConnell is also making clear that any bill that passes the Senate will need to include liability protection for companies worried about being sued over coronavirus infections, something Democrats are resisting.

House Democrats have ripped the Senate GOP’s proposal, which they say is not a serious enough effort to even begin negotiations across the two parties.

“When we have a reasonable bill put forth by Senate Republicans for us to discuss, let’s have a discussion about our differences,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said Wednesday, declining to comment on GOP demands like liability changes.

“Half the Senate Republicans don’t even seem to support the Senate Republican coronavirus bill,” Jeffries said. “It’s an inhumane, cruel, cold-hearted response.”

John Bresnahan and Max Cohen contributed to this report.