News, Trump Administration

Congress rebukes Trump’s bid to slash CDC funding amid outbreak

WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers resoundingly rebuffed a Trump administration request to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid the coronavirus crisis.

The CDC director testified Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee, where Republicans and Democrats alike said Congress won’t comply with the budget cuts requested in Trump’s fiscal year 2021 spending plan. The White House proposed to cut CDC’s overall spending by 9% in the next fiscal year.

“This subcommittee will not be pursuing the administration’s proposed cuts. To cut from our public health infrastructure during an outbreak is beyond consideration,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the CDC’s budget.

Instead, Congress will aim to funnel more money into the CDC and the nation’s public health system, she added. “We will not lurch from crisis to crisis and lapse into complacency in between. We cannot. This coronavirus outbreak makes that clear.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, agreed. “I’m quite sure that we won’t be cutting the CDC anytime soon. I suspect quite the opposite,” Cole told the CDC director.

CDC Director Robert Redfield defended the administration’s budget request on Capitol Hill at the Tuesday hearing, saying that “smart investments in CDC’s core capabilities and facilities enable us to protect U.S. citizens from a host of domestic and international health threats.”

There’s been broad bipartisan support in Congress for increased federal funding to deal with the outbreak of coronavirus, a respiratory illness that causes COVID-19. President Donald Trump last week signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to combat the outbreak.

“Obvious, we’re not cutting your budget,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told Redfield on Tuesday. The Wisconsin Democrat asked the CDC director whether the United States had lost its chance at containment and is strictly working to mitigate the effects of the illness.

The answer is different in different areas, Redfield said. “We’re in a containment in certain areas. I would say in general we’re in a containment, blended mitigation, in some areas we’re in high mitigation.”

On Tuesday afternoon, CDC’s website cited 647 confirmed and presumptive positive coronavirus cases in the United States, and 25 deaths caused by the virus. The CDC reported Tuesday that COVID-19 had been reported in 36 states and Washington, D.C.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) asked Redfield whether the United States was at the beginning, the middle or the end of its fight against the coronavirus.

“I can’t predict,” Redfield told her.

He also declined to predict what percentage of the U.S. population might ultimately get the coronavirus.

“I think it depends on how effective our public health response is right now,” Redfield told her.

“We all have a role to play.” And he stressed, “If you’re sick, stay home, please, stay home.”

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Liberal Supreme Court justices challenge abortion restrictions in high-stakes case

Demonstrators gathered outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices heard arguments in a case that could dramatically limit abortion rights. Photo: Robin Bravender

WASHINGTON — The liberal wing of the U.S. Supreme Court appeared highly skeptical of a Louisiana law that restricts abortion access as the justices heard oral arguments Wednesday in a high-stakes case that could open the door for additional abortion limitations around the country.

But the court’s conservative majority — which is likely to determine the outcome of the case — was less clear during oral arguments about how they’re likely to rule when the court issues its opinion later this year.

The case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, is over a Louisiana law that requires any physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, which critics say would severely limit access to those services. Opponents of the law warn that it would leave only one physician providing abortions in the entire state.

A ruling that allows the Louisiana law to stand could potentially allow other states to impose stricter abortion regulations.

The court’s four liberal justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — all questioned the need for Louisiana’s requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed.

“What sense does the 30-mile limit make?” Ginsburg asked Elizabeth Murrill, Louisiana’s solicitor general who defended the state’s law.

Murrill said the limit is “consistent with our regulatory structure” and that there was evidence of women who did require transfers to hospitals after abortion procedures.

Sotomayor also questioned the need for the 30-mile limit, arguing that, if doctors are credentialed somewhere outside those bounds, “they have the skill level.”

Kagan said that an abortion provider in Louisiana that served over 3,000 patients annually for 23 years had only ever transferred four patients to a hospital. The justices suggested that most women experience no complications after abortions and that those that did would likely seek medical care later from their homes. Ginsburg called first-trimester abortions among the safest medical procedures, “far safer than childbirth.”

Given that Louisiana’s former law required abortion providers to have admitting privileges or a written transfer agreement with a hospital, “it’s a little hard to see how this improves anything,” Breyer said.

He stressed that the justices weren’t likely to settle the complex case during oral arguments. He also pointed to the contentious nature of the issues at stake.

In the country, “people have very strong feelings and a lot of people morally think it’s wrong and a lot of people morally think the opposite is wrong,” Breyer said.

The Supreme Court has tilted ideologically in recent years after President Donald Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often a swing vote and who sided with the court’s liberal wing in the Texas abortion case.

Abortion foes are hoping that Kavanaugh’s presence on the bench will push the court to uphold the Louisiana law and set a new standard for how far states can go in imposing abortion restrictions.

Last year, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to temporarily block the Louisiana law from taking effect. Four conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — said they would have denied the request to stay the law.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts could represent the pivotal vote in the case. He joined the conservative wing in their 2016 dissent in the Texas case, arguing that the Texas law should have been upheld. Roberts joined the liberals, however, in the decision last year to block the law. Read more

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Future of abortion rights is before the Supreme Court today

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a high-profile abortion case that’s rooted in Louisiana but could have major implications in states around the country.

The case, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, centers on a Louisiana law that requires any physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, which critics warn would severely hamper access to those services.

“Access to abortion is hanging by a thread in this country, and this case is what could snap that thread,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement when the court agreed to hear the case. “Three years ago, the Supreme Court decided that laws like this one in Louisiana had no purpose other than to make abortion more difficult to access.”

The high court previously struck down a similar law in Texas, but abortion opponents hope the court’s stance on the issue will shift in the wake of the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with the court’s liberal wing in the Texas case. Kennedy has since been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who previously voted against an effort to temporarily block the Louisiana law.

Opponents of the Louisiana law argue that it would harm women in Louisiana, and would leave only one physician providing abortions in the entire state. That can’t possibly meet the needs of the roughly 10,000 women who seek abortion services in Louisiana each year, they told the Supreme Court.

The state law, critics warn, is unconstitutional because it offers no benefits to women’s health that could justify the burdens on abortion access.

A coalition of states is urging the court to strike down Louisiana’s law. It imposes “an undue burden on the constitutional right to access abortion services for the same reasons this Court articulated … when it invalidated Texas’s similar requirement,” they wrote in a brief to the court. The Louisiana admitting-privileges requirement “also imposes devastating burdens on access to abortion services.”

Another group of states argued in a brief that the high court should reject the appeal because the challengers lack the legal “standing” to sue. Alternatively, those states urge the Supreme Court to uphold Louisiana’s law.

North Carolina is not a party to either brief.

In February, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to temporarily block the law from taking effect. Four conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — said they would have denied the request to stay the law.

In a dissent, Kavanaugh wrote that he would have allowed the law to take effect because the appeals court had said “the new law would not affect the availability of abortions from … the four doctors who currently perform abortions at Louisiana’s three abortion clinics.”

Kennedy was the swing vote on a host of contentious issues, including on the 2016 decision in the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which rejected a Texas abortion law, finding it overly burdensome. The Louisiana law now in question is nearly identical to the Texas law that was struck down by the high court when Kennedy was on the bench.

A federal appeals court upheld Louisiana’s law despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas case, setting the stage for the arguments this week.

The Court is expected to issue an opinion before the end of its term this summer.

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Would a Sanders nomination hurt Dems’ bid to claim Senate majority?

News, Trump Administration

Trump praises ‘very special guy’ Rep. Meadows in acquittal victory speech

Congressman Mark Meadows

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump took a victory lap on Thursday, the day after the U.S. Senate voted to acquit him on articles of impeachment.

After slamming Democrats for engaging in an unfair partisan “witch hunt” against him, Trump welcomed what he called “total acquittal” and singled out his friends in Congress who had his back along the way.

Among them: North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who was one of Trump’s most ardent defenders throughout the process.

“This is a guy, he’s just a very special guy,” Trump said of Meadows.

He ribbed Meadows, saying he backed another candidate before his wife convinced him to support Trump.

The president also lamented Meadows’ upcoming retirement, suggesting that the North Carolina Republican would easily win his race. “He’s a tremendously talented man,” and an “extraordinary guy,” Trump said.

The way Meadows and his GOP colleagues acted during impeachment, Trump said, “it was like their life was at stake.”

Trump’s lengthy and at times rambling speech praising his allies and assailing his rivals by name contrasted starkly with the speech given by President Bill Clinton in 1999 after he was acquitted by the Senate.

After that vote, Clinton read a four-sentence statement from the Rose Garden apologizing for his behavior. He said he was “profoundly sorry” for his actions and the “great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people,” The Washington Post reported at the time.

“This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America,” Clinton said.

Robin Bravender is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for States Newsroom, a network of state-based news outlets that includes NC Policy Watch.