The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 3

House must get to the bottom of Trump’s deadly politicization of the pandemic

Through spring and summer of 2020, the Trump administration attempted to “alter or block” more than a dozen scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the pandemic, a top House lawmaker alleges. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who chairs the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, wants more information about this deadly politicization of public health.

As usual, the administration has been uncooperative — so much so that Clyburn’s panel last month finally subpoenaed two top U.S. health officials. Good. This is urgent information to pursue, even if it can’t be fully exposed until after the current president exits.

Of the many ways President Donald Trump has failed America during the pandemic, one of the most damaging has been his subversion of science to politics. Trump’s distrust of science has long been evident on other issues, so it wasn’t especially surprising that his impulse regarding the pandemic was to try to muzzle any scientific information that clashed with his overriding goal of downplaying the crisis.

In a letter last week to Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, and CDC Director Robert Redfield, Clyburn wrote that the administration’s efforts “to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known.” The subcommittee’s subpoenas of Azar and Redfield demand “full and unredacted” documents to get to the bottom of that interference.

It’s already been alleged that Redfield ordered the deletion of an email that appeared to show such interference. Clyburn’s letter further alleges that then-HHS spokesman Michael Caputo — a fervent Trump loyalist — “aggressively bullied and retaliated against CDC staff who provided truthful information to the press without his permission.”

Among other instances of politics tainting science, the letter alleges, was the handling of a CDC report referencing a coronavirus outbreak that occurred at a Georgia summer camp even though the camp had adhered to CDC guidelines. Rather than ponder what that might mean about the guidelines, a political appointee angrily complained that the report would undermine the administration’s push to reopen schools. “It just sends the wrong message as written,” the political appointee wrote. The report was ultimately scrubbed of any reference to the summer camp outbreak.

It’s difficult to miss the philosophical thread between anecdotes like that and Trump’s suggestion last summer that an acceptable way to address rising coronavirus cases was to do less testing so it wouldn’t be as evident. This deadly willingness to put public relations ahead of science is modeled right from the top.

America will soon be led by a new administration that can be expected to listen to the scientists rather than muzzle them. But that doesn’t diminish the importance of establishing how these failures happened, and how to prevent them from happening again.

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The Joplin Globe, Dec. 30

Josh Hawley has not made his case.

A lawyer, law professor and former Missouri attorney general who is now a U.S. senator from Missouri, Hawley said Wednesday he will object when Congress meets to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. But his arguments are weak.

He began his short statement by noting that some Democrats objected to the certification of electoral votes in 2004 and 2016, raising concerns about election integrity, and that they were praised for doing so.

”... those of us concerned about the integrity of this election are entitled to do the same,” he said.

Except that this election is unlike 2004 and 2016 — and, indeed, any other recent election — in that it has been investigated, litigated and dissected without turning up any evidence of widespread or systemic fraud.

Lawsuits have been filed only to be dismissed; votes have been counted, recounted and in some cases counted a third time. Signatures have been verified. President Donald Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr said the U.S. Justice Department uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and just before he resigned, he said there was no reason to appoint a special counsel to look into the president’s claims about the 2020 election. The former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for the Trump administration, Christopher Krebs, called this the most secure election in American history.

Hawley knows all of that. He also knows that his Republican counterpart, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, officially recognized Biden as president-elect a couple of weeks ago, and on Wednesday, Blunt said in a statement, “I will not be joining in any objection.”

In fact, it doesn’t appear Hawley has widespread support among Republicans in Washington, or back in Missouri, either.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been trying to prevent this, and Hawley also knows that because Democrats control the House, this is a pointless move. Senate Majority Whip John Thune said attempts to overturn the election “would go down like a shot dog.”

Ron Richard, the former Joplin mayor, former speaker of the Missouri House and former president pro tem of the Missouri Senate, considers himself a diehard Republican. Yet Richard, who was the elector representing Missouri’s 7th Congressional District earlier this month for the Electoral College vote, told us: “I don’t know what he (Hawley) is up to. I guess he’s running for president.”

There is no end game here that we can see, except as it benefits Hawley. And for what? 2024?

As Richard said: “What’s done is done.”

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Jan. 1

Elected members of Congress are concerned about lots of things: national security, the well-being of the American people and their own re-election chances.

They don’t appear to lose much sleep over the U.S. budget deficit, which exceeded $3 trillion in 2020 and will continue to grow with the latest coronavirus stimulus package. One News-Press reader, disturbed at what seems to be a cavalier attitude regarding deficit spending, asked a simple question: How can we pay for all this?

It’s simple. The U.S. Treasury is able to borrow money at interest rates of less than 2%, a dynamic that might defy economic logic but reflects the reality of the U.S. as the world’s ultimate safe haven for money.

Missouri faces no such font of seemingly unlimited funds, a real-world bummer that instills discipline but also requires tough choices. Both will be on display with the regular legislative session that begins Wednesday in Jefferson City.

This session might include many of the perennial issues that dominated debates in past years, including guns, public safety, highways and an online sales tax. But it could mark a return to reality as the economic effects of COVID-19 begin to appear in tax receipts. At the same time, state lawmakers must balance competing demands to fund a voter-approved expansion of Medicaid while also trying to maintain funding for education, especially colleges and universities that have been an easy target for past savings.

It sounds like a thankless job, one that falls into the lap of Sen. Dan Hegeman, a Republican from Andrew County who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Hegeman is a conservative but not an ideologue. As someone who knows what it takes to run a business or balance public ledgers, Hegeman might have found some of the promises surrounding Medicaid expansion too good to be true.

It’s supposed to pay for itself when more working adults get coverage and preventative care, and that may be the case at some point. The fiscal note on expansion ranged from savings of $1 billion to a taxpayer cost of $200 million, a big gap for anyone who knows that Missouri’s economy will suffer if it doesn’t figure out a way to commit more funds to education, especially higher education.

The fiscal year started with the governor withholding nearly $28 million from Missouri’s public colleges and universities, and that was before 230,000 people were added to the Medicaid roles. Medicaid expansion may pay for itself eventually, but Hegeman and others who have to balance the books probably know it won’t happen in the first year.

Elected officials in Jefferson City might look with envy at those in Washington who can debate whether to give everyone $600 or $2,000. For those closer to home, some hard choices loom.