Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 24

Rely on science, not Trump, on COVID-19

The president’s unfounded “deep state” attacks on FDA risk undermining the public’s trust.

The coronavirus has killed more than 808,000 people worldwide and nearly 177,000 in the U.S., including 1,771 in Minnesota.

Over 23 million people worldwide and more than 5.7 million in America have contracted COVID-19, including 70,298 Minnesotans. Millions of jobs and billions in wealth have been lost, and learning has been disrupted for students from kindergarten to college.

The health, economic, social and governing crises make clear the extent of the coronavirus catastrophe. Widely available and more effective treatments — and ultimately a vaccine — can’t come soon enough.

But the timetable should be measured by medical efficacy, not “Trump time,” which is the term used by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro when he confronted Food and Drug Administration officials over COVID treatments and the medical supply chain, according to an Axios report.

President Donald Trump was just as blunt, tweeting (what else?) an unfounded accusation that the FDA was slowing treatment for political purposes.

“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics,” Trump wrote. “Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives!”

Nov. 3, of course, is Election Day. For the president to presume that the professional experts who have committed their careers to health care would risk lives for political purposes is a profound insult. The fact is that the FDA adheres to a scientific timetable that already is moving faster than it usually does.

The president and aides such as Navarro, who has no medical expertise, also jeopardize the trust that will be essential for an eventual vaccine to work.

And that’s not all that’s at stake: Trump risks putting the already dangerous anti-vaccination movement on steroids, which might reduce the effects of all lifesaving vaccines.

On Sunday, Trump announced that the FDA had authorized emergency approval of convalescent plasma for use in COVID patients. The process is in effect an old treatment for a new disease that takes blood plasma from recovered COVID patients for use in those currently combating the infection.

While some 70,000 people have already received some form of the promising treatment, no randomized clinical trials have yet been completed to give a more complete picture of its effectiveness. The FDA, however, said that data it had accrued to date shows that “it is reasonable to believe” that it works.

That Trump announced the move on the eve of the Republican National Convention was not lost on some observers who are concerned that it’s not the FDA, but the White House, that may be prioritizing politics.

The timing of the announcement was “conspicuous,” Benjamin Corb, the director of public affairs for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, told The Washington Post. Trump, he added, is “once again putting his political goals ahead of the health and well-being of the American public.”

The virus is apolitical. The medical response should be, too. And the next critical steps in the nation’s battle to stop the spread should be determined by science, lest the COVID statistics grow even more grim.


Mankato Free Press, Aug. 25

GOP report: Russia and Trump campaign colluded

Why it matters: While Trump blasted Robert Mueller’s finding of collusion as a hoax, a Republican-led committee has reached the same conclusion.

During and after the long criminal investigation by Robert Mueller, President Trump and many congressional Republicans dismissed it as a “hoax.”

Now the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee has released its final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and confirmed what Mueller found: Russia worked to get Trump elected and his campaign willingly interacted with Russian intelligence services.

The committee — which wasn’t looking at criminal activity but at threats to American intelligence — said the campaign’s interactions with the Russians posed a “grave” counterintelligence threat. The report, the fifth and final released by the committee, detailed how Trump associates had regular contact with Russian intelligence services and expected the Kremlin’s meddling would help elect Trump.

The campaign was secretly providing Russia with polling data and coordinated the release of information the Russians had stolen to hurt Hillary Clinton.

The evidence, coming from the GOP committee, should put to rest the lie by Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, that the investigation into Russian meddling had no basis and was “bogus.”

The report comes as intelligence officials have warned lawmakers that Russia is interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get Trump re-elected. And China and Iran are taking covert actions to have Trump defeated.

Unfortunately, Trump has welcomed foreign intelligence services to help to sway our elections.

It is a direct threat to American democracy and the integrity of elections to allow foreign governments to meddle in our voting system. It doesn’t matter what side any country is favoring: Covert and overt meddling must be countered with swift and serious counter measures.


St. Cloud Times, Aug. 14

Enough petty politics! Senate Republicans, Walz must work together

Sadly, Minnesotans this past week saw just how petty some of their legislators can be when they don’t get their way.

The Republican-led Senate, while convened Wednesday in special session, made a stunning 34-32 vote to reject the confirmation of Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.

While a few key Senate Republicans tried to spin the decision as dissatisfaction with her performance over the past 19 months, the reality is this was purely a political play.

Witness House minority leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, a key Republican, tweeting “Looks like the senate is executing a prisoner today.” Perhaps worse, there’s is speculation the Senate could take down another Cabinet member in another 30 days.

Clearly, the move was meant to show Gov. Tim Walz how upset Republicans are with the extension of his emergency powers another 30 days amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor convened the special session primarily to take that action, which is required every 30 days to give legislators the opportunity to end a governor’s emergency powers. The only way Walz loses those powers is if simple majorities of the Senate and the House vote to end them.

The Senate did so Wednesday, but the DFL-controlled House again backed the first-term DFL governor and did not support ending them.

Have no doubt. Leppink’s ouster is the equivalent of a political temper tantrum by a caucus that hasn’t been able to persuade enough lawmakers to support its preferred course of action. And it’s something that should embarrass its backers. Locally, that’s Sens. Jerry Relph and Jeff Howe.

That said, there is a sane, civic and professional way to avoid such antics: The governor, the Senate and the House could work together toward common ground — and common good — ultimately nullifying the need for 30 more days of emergency gubernatorial powers.

We know. That’s crazy talk at a time of such extreme partisanship.

Still, here’s one idea.

First, Republicans must identify what COVID-19 preventive measures Walz has implemented that will remain in place if the emergency powers end.

For example, this board supports Minnesota’s mask mandate as well as Walz’s data-driven back-to-school framework that allows districts latitude in how to address safety in a new school year.

What specifically do Republicans support? And oppose?

Republicans are dreaming if they think Walz — or enough DFL legislators — will scuttle his emergency powers without some sort of data-driven agreement in place that prevents Minnesota from becoming the next COVID-19 hot spot.

So Republicans, show Minnesotans a responsible plan worthy of sharing power, and of convincing other lawmakers to join you.

But it’s not just Republicans who must step up. The governor also should put forth his benchmarks for ending his emergency powers.

Remember, Walz himself said a driving force in declaring the emergency was to allow hospitals to prepare for COVID-19. He essentially acknowledged that was accomplished in June. And since then, the steps he’s taken are much more about defining the new normal than governing in an emergency. Witness plans this past week to allow more visits to long-term care facilities — places that have proven deadliest for COVID-19 exposure.

Once those respective positions are known, Walz, Republican Senate leaders and key House DFLers can negotiate their way toward ending this peacetime emergency while keeping Minnesotans safe and restoring the balance of power to state government.

To do anything less is to put politics above this pandemic. Again.