Schools rise up against Republican governors’ mask opposition
With Carmen Paun and Daniel Lippman
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— As Covid cases spike in Texas and Florida, fueling calls for outside aid, governors hold fast against broad mask requirements for schools.
— Senators are set to clear the bipartisan infrastructure bill today, setting up for a budget reconciliation that several warn already needs to be scaled back.
— Former BARDA chief Rick Bright settled his case with HHS, though a probe into wrongdoing in the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response is ongoing.
SCHOOLS RISE UP AGAINST REPUBLICAN GOVS’ MASK LIMITS — Texas and Florida together account for roughly a third of new Covid-19 cases across the country, but that hasn’t convinced either state’s governor to back school mask mandates as the clock ticks down to a new school year.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott late Monday said the government will be deploying out-of-state medical personnel to help fight the state’s coronavirus case surge that’s now leading the country along with Florida for new case rates. Abbott also asked the Texas Hospital Association to press providers to postpone elective medical procedures to make room for Covid patients and announced plans for boosted vaccination efforts.
And yet: Abbott has vocally opposed broad implementation of one of the most basic public health measures, mask mandates, going so far as threatening to defund schools that require them. That didn’t stop the Dallas Independent School District from announcing Monday it would do just that in the state’s second-largest school district, requiring staff, students and visitors to wear masks on school grounds.
Two Florida school districts said on the same day they would pursue mask requirements unless a child had a medical note in an attempt to swerve opposition to school mask mandates from another Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.
Could the governors turn it around? Both governors have argued their opposition to broader requirements is about personal responsibility and choice, even as other prominent Republicans such as Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a doctor, have criticized their stance.
And, so far, the dire case trend doesn’t seem to be swaying them: In fact, both states could be due for court battles with school districts pushing ahead on masking requirements. “The State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law,” DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw wrote to our colleague Andrew Atterbury.
SET YOUR CLOCKS: BIPARTISAN BILL VOTE TODAY — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that the bipartisan infrastructure package is on a “glide path for passage tomorrow morning” (maybe even by the time you’re reading this).
Technically, the Senate’s procedural clock won’t allow a final vote until 4 a.m. today. Senators have worked on an agreement that would instead allow the vote to come later Tuesday during more normal business hours, Tanya Snyder writes.
“It may have taken all weekend, but the Senate is now finally on the precipice of passing major bipartisan infrastructure legislation,” Schumer said on the floor Monday morning.
While Schumer acknowledged criticism that both packages are “unachievable on such a short timeline and in such a slow-moving chamber,” the majority leader stuck to his plan to complete work on both the infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill before the August recess.
Speaking of the budget: The framework released Monday morning aspires big on health care, though lawmakers are already warning they’ll need to scale back to make the math add up. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan instructs Senate committees to come up with legislation by mid-September that expands Medicare, closes the Medicaid gap, lowers prescription drug prices, keeps new Obamacare subsidies and makes in-home care available to more people, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Rachel Roubein write.
But Sanders is forging ahead, calling the package the “most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since FDR and the New Deal of the 1930s” during a Monday floor speech.
BRIGHT SETTLES WHISTLEBLOWER CLAIM WITH TRUMP HHS — Former chief of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Rick Bright reached a settlement with HHS regarding his claims that the agency under Trump retaliated against him for complaints about the Covid-19 response.
Neither the current administration nor Bright, who advised President Biden during the transition, disclosed the terms of the settlement. HHS said in the statement that it “would like to thank Dr. Bright for his dedicated public service and for the contributions he made to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic while he served as BARDA Director. We wish him well in his new endeavors.”
A separate investigation into Bright’s claims of government wrongdoing, particularly with the emergency authorization of hydroxychloroquine as an unproven treatment for Covid-19, is still ongoing.
“Glad to move on. Then + now – Truth Matters,” Bright tweeted after the announcement.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WITH PENTAGON VAX MANDATE — The Department of Defense’s new requirement for service members to get vaccinated by mid-September has a precedent in other vaccinations like the anthrax shot. But without full approval — which officials hope could happen by then, at least for Pfizer — there’s some gray area for hesitant members, Jonathan Custodio writes.
“It’s not a lawful order if it doesn’t serve a government purpose,” said military justice attorney Eugene Fidell, counsel at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell. Once the FDA approves the available vaccines, “there is no defense” that the order would be unconstitutional, noted Fidell.
But some military personnel could try to use a presidential waiver–induced mandate as a defense for refusing vaccination. “I absolutely foresee service members potentially filing suit and seeking injunction precluding them from having to get the vaccine,” said Carol Thompson, a partner at the Federal Practice Group who specializes in military law. “I think the key issue for the military is that it’s still not FDA approved and the emergency use authorization seems to have been abused.”
But after approval? If a service member refuses an order to get vaccinated, their commander can issue an administrative reprimand or a nonjudicial punishment, often referred to as an NJP, explained Thompson. Administrative reprimands are essentially written complaints that go in a service member’s permanent file and can affect promotions or career advancement, while NJPs can range from a lowering in rank to a pay suspension and even an honorable or other-than-honorable discharge.
FIRST IN PULSE: GOP LEADERS QUESTION NIH ON HARASSMENT CASE — Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee penned a letter to the National Institutes of Health questioning its handling of sexual harassment complaints made about an oncologist who served on an agency advisory panel.
Background: Oncologist Axel Grothey was reprimanded last year by medical licensure boards in three states for inappropriate sexual relationships with former colleagues, as The Cancer Letter reported.
Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking E&C member, and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), the leading Republican on E&C’s oversight subcommittee, argue in their letter that despite these public complaints, Grothey maintained a co-chair position on a prominent committee until National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless removed him this May. “In his NIH role, Dr. Grothey’s decisions could have adversely impacted the careers of his accusers,” they write.
Rodgers and Griffith asked in their letter to NIH Director Francis Collins that he lay out the agency’s sexual harassment policy and comment on Sharpless’ move to oust Grothey from his post.
GUINEA REPORTS WEST AFRICA’S FIRST-EVER MARBURG CASE — A man died in late July in Guinea after contracting Marburg, a highly infectious virus from the same family as Ebola. It’s the first-ever Marburg case reported in West Africa. The World Health Organization assesses the risk of the virus’ regional spread as high but notes the global risk is low.
Three family members of the man and one health care worker have been identified as close contacts and are asymptomatic, the WHO said. Overall, 145 contacts have been identified. There has been no other confirmed case of Marburg yet.
Yvanna Cancela, a former Democratic state senator from Nevada, is leaving the Biden administration just six months after joining it as HHS principal deputy director. Cancela will be chief of staff to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Joe Russo is joining the Association for Accessible Medicines as senior director of federal government affairs. Russo previously served as a White House special assistant to President Donald Trump and deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison. Before that he was coalitions director of the House Judiciary Committee and served on the legislative staff of former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who’s also a lobbyist now.
The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan spoke with vaccinated Tucker Carlson fans about their decisions amid burgeoning vaccine hesitancy in their circles, writing that a fear-based strategy may ultimately be the most successful.
Kaiser Family Foundation breaks down what the Medicaid coverage gap looks like on the ground: The gap is concentrated largely in four states, like Texas, where people who make over $300 a month wouldn’t qualify, write Rachel Garfield, Anthony Damico and Robin Rudowitz.
A research group petitioned the FDA to pull potentially thousands of sunscreens from the market, including brands such as Coppertone, Banana Boat and Neutrogena, because of a potential carcinogen, Bloomberg’s Anna Edney reports.