The Occupational Health and Safety Administration said Saturday that it would not issue citations tied to its coronavirus vaccination mandate before Jan. 10, so that companies have time to adjust to and implement the requirements.
The federal agency separately said there would be no citations of companies regarding its testing requirements before Feb. 9.
The announcement came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District in Cincinnati decided on Friday that the mandate for large employers could go forward, reversing a previous court decision made after 27 Republican-led states, conservative groups, business associations and some individual companies challenged the mandate.
OSHA said in a statement that it would not issue citations before the listed dates “so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard.”
The mandate was previously slated to take effect Jan. 4.
The Biden administration’s vaccine requirement applies to companies with 100 or more employees and covers about 84 million U.S. workers. Employees who are not fully vaccinated have to wear face masks and be subject to weekly COVID-19 tests. There are exceptions, including for those who work outdoors or only at home.
Administration officials estimate that the mandate will save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over six months.
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Last Call For The Vax Of Life, Con't
The GOP's Race To The Bottom, Con't
More than 30 years ago, Robert Reives Sr. marched into a meeting of his county government in Sanford, N.C., with a demand: Create a predominantly Black district in the county, which was 23 percent Black at the time but had no Black representation, or face a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act.
The county commission refused, and Mr. Reives prepared to sue. But after the county settled and redrew its districts, he was elected in 1990 as Lee County’s first Black commissioner, a post he has held comfortably ever since.
Until this year.
Republicans, newly in power and in control of the redrawing of county maps, extended the district to the northeast, adding more rural and suburban white voters to the mostly rural district southwest of Raleigh and effectively diluting the influence of its Black voters. Mr. Reives, who is still the county’s only Black commissioner, fears he will now lose his seat.
“They all have the same objective,” he said in an interview, referring to local Republican officials. “To get me out of the seat.”
“Let’s call it a five-alarm fire,” G.K. Butterfield, a Black congressman from North Carolina, said of the current round of congressional redistricting. He is retiring next year after Republicans removed Pitt County, which is about 35 percent Black, from his district.
“I just didn’t see it coming,” he said in an interview. “I did not believe that they would go to that extreme.”
Mr. Reives is one of a growing number of Black elected officials across the country — ranging from members of Congress to county commissioners — who have been drawn out of their districts, placed in newly competitive districts or bundled into new districts where they must vie against incumbents from their own party.
Almost all of the affected lawmakers are Democrats, and most of the mapmakers are white Republicans. The G.O.P. is currently seeking to widen its advantage in states including North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia and Texas, and because partisan gerrymandering has long been difficult to disentangle from racial gerrymandering, proving the motive can be troublesome.
But the effect remains the same: less political power for communities of color.
The pattern has grown more pronounced during this year’s redistricting cycle, the first since the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and allowed jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination to pass election laws and draw political maps without approval from the Justice Department.
A former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mr. Butterfield said fellow Black members of Congress were increasingly worried about the new Republican-drawn maps. “We are all rattled,” he said.
In addition to Mr. Butterfield, four Black state senators in North Carolina, five Black members of the state House of Representatives and several Black county officials have had their districts altered in ways that could cost them their seats. Nearly 24 hours after the maps were passed, civil rights groups sued the state.
Across the country, the precise number of elected officials of color who have had their districts changed in such ways is difficult to pinpoint. The New York Times identified more than two dozen of these officials, but there are probably significantly more in county and municipal districts. And whose seats are vulnerable or safe depends on a variety of factors, including the political environment at the time of elections.
But the number of Black legislators being drawn out of their districts outpaces that of recent redistricting cycles, when voting rights groups frequently found themselves in court trying to preserve existing majority-minority districts as often as they sought to create new ones.
“Without a doubt it’s worse than it was in any recent decade,” said Leah Aden, a deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. “We have so much to contend with and it’s all happening very quickly.”
Republicans, who have vastly more control over redistricting nationally than Democrats do, defend their maps as legal and fair, giving a range of reasons.
Kirk Smith, the Republican chairman of Lee County’s board of commissioners, said that “to say only a person of a certain racial or ethnic group can represent only a person of the same racial or ethnic group has all the trappings of ethnocentric racism.”
Insurrection Investigation, Con't
Three days ahead of the pro-Trump rally, all 10 then-living ex-secretaries of defense — including Donald Rumsfeld, who died in 2021, and Dick Cheney — published an extraordinary letter in the Washington Post, warning the White House not to engage the military in its election challenge. They wrote: “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”
Americans might well wonder what prompted such a stern warning. One of the signers, in fact, was Mark Esper, whom Trump had shockingly fired as Pentagon chief just days after the Nov. 3 election. The supposed lame duck president had not only replaced Esper but — with just nine or so weeks before leaving office — had installed an entire slate of new loyalists at the Pentagon as well as intelligence agencies. Asked the New York Times in a headline: “To what end?”
To what end, indeed?
Although there was understandable speculation about what the moves meant for U.S. troops then in Afghanistan and the Middle East, the then-president had been increasingly focused since the spring of 2020 — and the at-times destructive protests over the police murder of George Floyd — on what he claimed was a domestic threat posed by “antifa.” In June, Trump promised in a tweet that “the United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization” — even though experts agree such extreme leftist elements are small and lack any umbrella organization.
Although it didn’t receive a ton of attention at the time, violence between pro-Trump groups like the Proud Boys and leftist counterprotesters may have peaked on December 12, 2020, at rallies which in hindsight look like trial runs for January 6. A man was shot in Olympia, Washington, while several dozen people on both sides were arrested or hurt in the D.C. fighting that lasted well into the night. In another bit of foreshadowing, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio posted mysterious pictures from the White House portico. Trump previewed the “wild” January 6 rally one week later.
But then something happened that arguably altered the course of history. People on the left who’d spent four years actively resisting Trump in the streets shared a surprising new message in those two weeks ahead of the insurrection: Stay home on January 6. This was reinforced by a number of Democratic officials who pushed out the same message to both traditional leftists and Black Lives Matter activists.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was typical: “I am asking Washingtonians and those who live in the region to stay out of the downtown area on Tuesday and Wednesday and not to engage with demonstrators who come to our city seeking confrontation.” But more important, arguably, were rank-and-file anti-Trump liberals sharing that message on social media sites. There was even a hashtag making the rounds, #DontTakeTheBait.
The anti-Trumpers didn’t take the bait. We’ll never know what would have happened if there had been street battles between the two factions on January 6, but there’s a chilling hint in the coup-planning PowerPoint presentation from Trump ally and former Army psy-ops specialist Phil Waldron that circulated both among Meadows and others in the White House as well as their allies in Congress. It called for Trump to declare a “National Security Emergency” — a move that might have aligned with his “antifa” memo of the day before.
Meanwhile, if National Guard troops were — as Meadows stated in his email — indeed on standby to support pro-Trump protesters, military leaders seemed to freeze that Wednesday afternoon when they were asked to do the exact opposite and confront the insurrectionists. D.C. officials who dispatched metro police officers to quell the insurrection pleaded with the Pentagon — which had operational control over the D.C. National Guard — to send in added forces, only to face three long hours of stunning inaction.
More recently, a former high-ranking official in the D.C. National Guard has called two top Army generals “absolute and unmitigated liars” in their efforts to explain the delay in deploying Guard troops positioned at a nearby armory until nearly 5:30 p.m., or when the worst fighting that injured scores of police officers was already over. This discrepancy needs to be answered — but so does the question of whether Guard troops would have been more hastily deployed in the event of leftist protesters, and whether that action would have impeded Biden’s certification. (Also, the question of why one of those two generals in that line of command was Gen. Charles Flynn, brother of Trump ally Michael Flynn who was leading efforts to overturn the election.)
While an alarming timeline about the possible role of troops and a national security emergency on January 6 is taking shape, there are, of course, many holes that still need to be filled in by an aggressive House investigation. First and foremost is learning what communications took place between Meadows and other White House staffers with the Pentagon to believe that soldiers were “on standby” to support their cause. Investigators should also ask about Trump’s focus on “antifa,” right up to the middle of the afternoon on January 6. Increasingly, the question is less whether there were plans for a coup on January 6 — clearly, there were — but who needs to be held accountable for the greatest assault on U.S. democracy since 1861.
Keep in mind something else rather shocking that we learned this week — that even knowing that the violent Capitol Hill insurrection was the work of Trump supporters, and horribly wrong, key Fox News hosts like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity went on national TV that night continuing to suggest antifa might somehow be to blame. Because once the script for a coup has been written, apparently it’s hard to break character.
Again, we know what the plan was: The Justice Department would put the election "under investigation" for fraud in the five battleground states Biden won, Mike Pence would send the electoral votes for those five states back to the legislatures (all controlled by the GOP), declare that there were not enough electoral votes to elect either Biden or Trump, and send the matter to the House where Trump would win based on House state delegations.
In addition, the plan was to justify Pence's actions and declare a national state of emergency precipitated by the destructive Trump rally, with the DC National Guard to be called in to deal with the "Antifa caused chaos" while electoral votes were being counted. If Pence balked, he would be "taken to a secure location" where in the ensuing emergency, House Republicans would declare Trump to be President.
We know that Trump's team was also considering sending US Marshals to all 50 states to secure electoral vote boxes from all 50 state legislatures. The final result would have been a Trump second term, and enough House and Senate races flipped due to "election fraud" in favor of the GOP that the Republicans would keep Congress.
It would have been the end of American democracy, with martial law declared to maintain Trump's hold on power.
It was absolutely a coup.
With the country still as divided as ever, we must take steps to prepare for the worst.
First, everything must be done to prevent another insurrection. Not a single leader who inspired it has been held to account. Our elected officials and those who enforce the law — including the Justice Department, the House select committee and the whole of Congress — must show more urgency.
But the military cannot wait for elected officials to act. The Pentagon should immediately order a civics review for all members — uniformed and civilian — on the Constitution and electoral integrity. There must also be a review of the laws of war and how to identify and deal with illegal orders. And it must reinforce “unity of command” to make perfectly clear to every member of the Defense Department whom they answer to. No service member should say they didn’t understand whom to take orders from during a worst-case scenario.
In addition, all military branches must undertake more intensive intelligence work at all installations. The goal should be to identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers; guard against efforts by propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command; and understand how that and other misinformation spreads across the ranks after it is introduced by propagandists.
Finally, the Defense Department should war-game the next potential post-election insurrection or coup attempt to identify weak spots. It must then conduct a top-down debrief of its findings and begin putting in place safeguards to prevent breakdowns not just in the military, but also in any agency that works hand in hand with the military.
The military and lawmakers have been gifted hindsight to prevent another insurrection from happening in 2024 — but they will succeed only if they take decisive action now.
Ali Alexander, who founded the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement and attended the rally that preceded the Capitol attack, told congressional investigators that he recalls “a few phone conversations” with Rep. Paul Gosar and a text exchange with Rep. Mo Brooks about his efforts in the run-up to Jan. 6, his lawyers confirmed in a late Friday court filing.
Alexander also told the Jan. 6 House select committee that he spoke to Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in person “and never by phone, to the best of his recollection,” his lawyers say.
The description of the testimony comes in a lawsuit Alexander filed to block the committee from obtaining his phone records from Verizon. Alexander says in the suit that the records include contacts with people protected by privileges: religious advisers, people he counsels spiritually and his lawyers. He also indicated that he already shared more than 1,500 text messages with investigators, in addition to sitting for an eight-hour deposition. The Brooks text, he indicated, is among the texts he turned over.
Alexander’s testimony underscores the degree to which the select committee continues to probe the roles of their Republican colleagues in efforts to promote former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud — and their potential support for fringe figures who helped gather people in Washington on Jan. 6, the day Congress was required to certify the 2020 election results.
The panel hasn’t formally requested testimony from any of the GOP lawmakers yet but has continued to ask witnesses about Gosar, Biggs, Brooks and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who helped push a strategy to use the Department of Justice to promote the fraud claims.
The Vax Of Life, Con't
Trump administration officials made "deliberate efforts to undermine the nation's coronavirus response for political purposes," the House Select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis led by Democrats said in a report released Friday.
The committee, which spent months working to interview former Trump officials, said the administration worked to undermine the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic by blocking officials from speaking publicly, watering down testing guidance and attempting to interfere with other public health guidance.
Many pieces of the report were a summation of documents and interviews they've released throughout the year, but the report also outlined new examples where health guidance was adapted despite officials' concerns about the potential harmful effects of the changes.
In one instance, Dr. Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the committee he was upset and concerned about guidance he was directed to update in May 2020 for faith communities. He said he feared that some of the altered guidance about masking and other church practices could potentially put lives at risk.
He wrote in an email about the change that he was "very troubled on this Sunday morning that there will be people who will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do."
"I was doing a lot of soul searching about whether or not I should have agreed to even make the change in the document," Butler told the committee when asked about his words. "Clearly, it was a directive, but that was a real struggle as I felt like what had been done was not good public health practice."
Butler told the committee that while he wasn't aware of any examples where the guidance had adversely impacted the health of Americans, "that concern will haunt me for some time."
The report also chronicled deep frustration from then-White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who at one point was so upset about a meeting that included doctors whom she called part of a "fringe group" that she told colleagues she would not attend.
"I can't be part of this with these people who believe in herd immunity," Birx wrote in an email released by the committee. That approach has been widely decried by public health experts, who note that a previous infection doesn't guarantee immunity and who say such an approach would most certainly have led to even more hospitalizations and deaths. "These are people who believe that all the curves are predetermined and mitigation is irrelevant -- they are a fringe group without grounding in epidemics, public health or on the ground common sense experience. I am happy to go out of town or whatever gives the WH cover," she wrote.
The report also laid out how one briefing so angered former President Donald Trump that CDC officials were blocked by the Trump administration for more than three months from conducting public briefings.
One official, then-CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Dr. Nancy Messonnier, told the committee Trump was "angered" after she gave a briefing on February 25, 2020, that warned about the danger of Covid-19. She told the select subcommittee she felt "upset" after she received calls from then-CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar about it.
CNN has reached out to Redfield and Azar for comment.
A federal appeals court has reinstated the Biden administration’s vaccine and testing requirement for private businesses that covers about 80 million American workers.
The ruling by the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati lifted a November injunction that had blocked the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which applies to businesses with at least 100 workers.
In the decision Friday, the 6th Circuit noted that OSHA has historical precedent for using wide discretion to ensure worker safety and “demonstrated the pervasive danger that COVID-19 poses to workers—unvaccinated workers in particular—in their workplaces.”
The Justice Department argued last week that blocking the requirements would result in “enormous” harm to the public, as hospitals brace for an increase in Covid cases this winter and the highly mutated omicron variant takes root in more states.
“COVID-19 is spreading in workplaces, and workers are being hospitalized and dying,” the Justice Department argued in a court filing on Friday. “As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise and a new variant has emerged, the threat to workers is ongoing and overwhelming.”
The policy required businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers were fully vaccinated by Jan. 4 or submit a negative Covid test weekly to enter the workplace. Unvaccinated employees were required to start wearing masks indoors starting Dec. 5.
Republican attorneys general, private companies and industry groups such as the National Retail Federation, the American Trucking Associations, and the National Federation of Independent Business sued to have the policy overturned. They argued that the requirements are unnecessary, burden businesses with compliance costs, and exceed the authority of the federal government.
“These assertions ignore the economic analysis OSHA conducted that demonstrates the feasibility of implementing the ETS [Emergency Temporary Standard],” the 6th Circuit said Friday, labeling concerns by the petitioning groups “speculative.”
The Biden administration last month stopped implementation and enforcement of the requirements to comply with an order issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. Judge Kurt D. Englehardt, in an opinion for a three-judge panel, said the requirements were “staggeringly overbroad” and raised “serious constitutional concerns.”