The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Treasury secretary each issued announcements on Wednesday vowing to overhaul two prominent public-facing agencies that have long been criticized as myopic and hobbled by past practices.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky concurred with many scientists, lawmakers, state officials and members of the public when she conceded the agency she has led since 2021 did not “reliably” meet its mission during the COVID-19 pandemic — and must change (The New York Times and The Hill). The coronavirus has killed more than a million people in the U.S., and deaths still average more than 400 a day.
Walensky’s prescriptions after an external review: faster CDC responses, less focus on publication of academic papers, improved and stable management, and clearer, simpler communication and public guidance.
“My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness,” she said.
Walensky, a former Harvard Medical School professor and infectious disease expert, appointed Mary Wakefield, a former Obama administration health official, to lead the agency’s reorganization and transition plan, which on Wednesday remained vaguely described.
Down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took aim at the IRS soon after President Biden signed the $740 billion Inflation Reduction Act that includes tax changes hotly criticized by the GOP.
She told IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Wednesday to take six months to come up with an $80 billion overhaul that will clear a backlog of unprocessed tax returns, improve taxpayer service, revamp antiquated technology, and hire and train thousands of new employees (The New York Times).
Yellen tasked Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo to work with Rettig to get it done. She said the plan must have metrics for its various areas of improvement so that Congress can hold the agency accountable.
Lawmakers from both parties have identified plenty of shortcomings at the CDC and the IRS over the years.
Michael Lewis, who wrote “The Premonition,” about the CDC’s failures during the Trump administration as COVID-19 spread, told NPR early last year that his reporting showed “that the bigger picture is we as a society have allowed institutions like the CDC to become very politicized. And this is a larger pattern in the U.S. government. More and more jobs [are] being politicized, more and more people in these jobs being on shorter, tighter leashes.”
Perhaps emblematic of that condition, Walensky and Yellen are looking over the horizon. Democrats, led by Biden, tell voters that the federal government works to solve problems and improve Americans’ lives. At the same time, conservatives promise oversight of both agencies next year if the GOP gains majorities in either or both chambers.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist, early this month released a video telling people to flout CDC guidance. “It’s time for us to resist. They can’t arrest all of us. They can’t keep all of your kids home from school,” he said on Twitter. “We don’t have to accept the mandates, lockdowns and harmful policies of the petty tyrants and bureaucrats. We can simply say: ‘No, not again.’”
Looking beyond 2024, some Republicans who are contemplating presidential bids, including former President Trump, champion an executive order known as “Schedule F,” which they say could cull the federal workforce and install personnel more attuned to GOP aims.
Bashing the IRS currently is a popular GOP midterm election theme, The Hill’s Emily Brooks reports. Ignoring Yellen’s denials, Republicans tell voters the Inflation Reduction Act’s increased funding for the IRS means middle-class Americans and small businesses will be audited and perhaps investigated by armed IRS agents.
Yellen, in her Wednesday memo, said the IRS would focus on cracking down on wealthy tax dodgers and big companies that have long evaded paying what they owe to the federal government. She also promised that middle-class households would not face more onerous scrutiny and that their audit rates would not rise.
“These investments will not result in households earning $400,000 per year or less or small businesses seeing an increase in the chances that they are audited relative to historical levels,” Yellen wrote. “Instead, they will allow the IRS to work to end the two-tiered tax system, where most Americans pay what they owe, but those at the top of the distribution often do not.”
▪ The Hill: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told “CBS Mornings” that a decision about extending the government’s current freeze on federal student loan repayments will be communicated “soon.”
▪ Breaking Defense: Air Force Special Operations Command on Tuesday grounded all 52 of its CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft indefinitely as the result of an “increased number of safety incidents.”
LEADING THE DAY
Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said that he has not ruled out sitting down with the Jan. 6 select committee for an interview, effectively opening the door to an unprecedented sit-down over Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election.
Pence, a possible presidential candidate in 2024, told a crowd in Manchester, N.H., that he would give an invitation to testify “due consideration.”
“If there was an invitation to participate, I would consider it,” Pence said at St. Anselm College. “Any invitation directed at me, I’d have to reflect on the unique role I was serving in as vice president. It would be unprecedented in history for the vice president to be summoned to testify on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t want to prejudge ever any formal invitation rendered to us,” he added.
Testimony by the former vice president has been long sought after by the Jan. 6 select committee due to the pressure campaign waged by Trump and his allies for Pence to reject the 2020 election outcome in a number of states. However, the committee did receive testimony from Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff at the end of the Trump presidency.
Committee members have said in recent months that they were considering whether to subpoena the former VP (Reuters). The panel is expected to resume its slate of hearings next month after Congress returns to work.
Pence also made waves by panning attacks from within the Republican Party aimed at the FBI and law enforcement officials following last week’s search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.
“I also want to remind my fellow Republicans we can hold the attorney general accountable for the decision that he made without attacking the rank-and-file law enforcement personnel at the FBI,” Pence said to applause from attendees. “The Republican Party is the party of law and order. Our party stands with the men and women who serve on the thin blue line at the federal, state and local level. And these attacks on the FBI must stop.”
Pence added that calls within the party to “defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police” (The Hill).
▪ The New York Times: Plea deal requires Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to plead guilty to 15 felonies.
▪ The Hill interview: James Carville: Trump scandal could be “biggest story since 9/11.”
▪ Politico: Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of Senate GOP campaign arm, suggested the GOP could shut down the government next year if it retakes the chamber’s majority while working to unravel components of the Democrats’ newly enacted climate change, tax and health care legislation.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday following her primary defeat told NBC’s “Today” that she is “thinking about” a possible White House run and will make that decision in the “coming months.” For now, she says she is focused on her work with the Jan. 6 panel, which will wrap at the end of the year (The Hill).
▪ The Washington Post: Trump’s dominance in GOP comes into focus, worrying some in the party.
▪ Aaron Blake, The Washington Post: Cheney for president? Why it could actually matter.
▪ The Hill: Who is Mary Peltola, the Democrat outperforming expectations in Alaska?
On the Senate side, a new Marquette Law School Poll survey released on Wednesday shows Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) holding a 7-percentage point advantage over Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), handing a boost to the Democratic effort to keep hold of the majority.
Barnes, fresh off a primary triumph last week, leads with 51 percent to only 44 percent for the two-term incumbent. The previous poll taken in June showed Barnes leading by 2 percentage points.
Despite the poor numbers, Johnson still has reasons for optimism. As his team readily notes, both Marquette Law School Poll surveys taken in August 2016 during his last reelection fight showed him down 11 and 3 points, respectively, against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). In fact, almost every single poll taken of the 2016 contest showed him trailing (RealClearPolitics).
In addition, Wednesday’s poll showed that 41 percent of voters either haven’t heard enough about Barnes to form an opinion or do not know enough about him.
▪ Hanna Trudo, The Hill: How Barnes, a populist Democrat, is taking on Johnson in Wisconsin.
▪ Politico: Dems mount $10 million ad campaign to sell landmark law — and skirt a November wipeout.
▪ The Associated Press: Post-Roe differences surface in GOP over new abortion rules.
▪ The Hill: State prosecutor sues Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over ouster.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➤ POX, PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Reps. Jerry Nadler and Ritchie Torres, both New York Democrats, on Wednesday urged the administration along with colleagues to use the Defense Production Act to compel the domestic manufacture of needed monkeypox vaccine doses (The Hill).
A case of monkeypox was diagnosed in a man whose “primary risk factor” was close, nonsexual contact, including dancing, at a crowded outdoor event in the United Kingdom, the CDC reported (CNN). The case expands possible transmission routes and implications for “epidemic control,” researchers wrote.
Ahead of the upcoming academic year, the University of Maryland said Wednesday that the campus community has its first presumptive case of monkeypox — in a staff member (WTOP).
New York City health officials announced the West Nile virus has been detected in two people as the city experiences a record number of mosquitos. The cases were detected in Queens and Brooklyn (The Hill).
Cases of hand, foot and mouth disease are being seen with more frequency by pediatricians, who believe the typically common infection ebbed during the pandemic when youngsters were more isolated from one another (WTOP). The disease is usually not serious, but it’s contagious and spreads quickly at schools and day care centers. Symptoms usually mimic a cold, with a fever, sore throat and runny nose. Then a rash of tiny, red, oval shapes that sometimes blister and scab can develop on various body parts.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,039,026. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 398, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The New York Times: Following a November jury verdict in the opioid crisis, a federal judge in Ohio on Wednesday ruled that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart must pay $650.5 million to two Ohio counties because the nation’s largest pharmacy chains continued to dispense mass quantities of prescription painkillers over the years while ignoring signs that the pills were being abused. Drug manufacturers and drug distributors, two other groups in the pharmaceutical chain that have been sued, also bear responsibility, the judge said. The pharmacy chains plan to appeal, their lawyers said.
Leana S. Wen, contributing columnist, The Washington Post: The reemergence of polio is a public health emergency. And a tragedy.
■ Cheney’s defense of democracy needs a political strategy, by Jonathan Bernstein, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3A0mN5X
■ How to fight polio with cultural sensitivity, by Jeneen Interlandi, editorial board member, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3PylXTD
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet on Friday at 11 a.m. for a pro forma session. It will reconvene on Sept. 13. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will hold a press event in San Francisco at 10 a.m. PT to celebrate the CHIPS and Science Act.
The Senate convenes on Friday at 2:30 p.m. for a pro forma session during its summer recess, which ends Sept. 6.
The president has no public events scheduled. He is in Wilmington, Del.
First lady Jill Biden is in South Carolina at a private residence while isolating with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Vice President Harris has no public events. She and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are in Kauai, Hawaii.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to Phoenix for a roundtable discussion about reproductive rights with Planned Parenthood clinicians at 9:30 a.m. PT at the organization’s Central Phoenix Health Center. Becerra will lead a second event with Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) at Phoenix’s Chicanos Por La Causa Maryvale Community Service Center about provisions in the recently enacted Inflation Reduction law designed to result in lower-cost prescription drugs for seniors.
Economic indicator: The Labor Department at 8:30 a.m. will report on filings for unemployment claims in the week ending Aug. 13. The National Association of Realtors at 10 a.m. will report on existing home sales in July.
🎂 Former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who made a public appearance in Georgia over the weekend, is 95 today. Happy birthday! (Fox5 Atlanta).
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in Lviv today. On the agenda: talks about how to expand grain exports from the key European area and the ongoing issues at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine that is under Russian control. The meeting with Erdoğan comes only a month after the Turkish leader met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the grain issue as prices skyrocketed following the invasion (The Associated Press).
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. veterans race to train Ukrainians as Marines; “Time is not on their side.”
Iran this week responded to what had been described as a final road map from the European Union toward restoring the nuclear deal following Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw. Tehran’s written reaction encouraged Western negotiators even if it was not a definitive “yes” because Iran didn’t raise new objections, The New York Times reported. Iran wants assurances that the United States would lift punishing economic sanctions and that such assurances would be valid after Biden leaves office.
Syria says it does not have U.S. journalist Austin Tice, The Washington Post reported. Tice was abducted in Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012, just days after his 31st birthday. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and later became a journalist covering Syria, including for the Post.
NASA’s new moon rocket made the lengthy trek to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, arriving ahead of its inaugural flight in less than two weeks. The rocket departed its hangar late on Tuesday, and it took 10 hours for the 322-foot object to travel four miles to the launch pad, having arrived at sunrise. Liftoff is slated for Aug 29 (The Associated Press).
In Texas, drought threatens America’s cattle heartland and is forcing ranchers to make agonizing decisions about whether to sell livestock at a loss or gamble on rain. “We’ll keep selling cows ‘til it rains,” Texas High Plains rancher Jim Ferguson told Amarillo station KAMR, which collaborated with The Hill’s Saul Elbein on drought coverage.
Take Our Morning Report Quiz
And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Inspired by former President Clinton’s 76th birthday on Friday, we’re eager for some smart guesses about his natal days of old.
Email your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.
Clinton made his birthplace part of his campaign in 1992. Where was he born?
- Liberty, Texas
- Champion, Ohio
- Truth or Consequences, N.M.
- Hope, Ark.
In 1995, the 42nd president celebrated his 49th birthday during a long vacation in which state? (Hint: It appeared in headlines this week.)
In 1996, Clinton marked middle age and his 50th birthday with 5,300 of his closest friends at Radio City Music Hall and raised $10 million for the Democratic Party. Which entertainer sang for the president during that reelection-year birthday bash?
- Aretha Franklin
- Tony Bennett
- Barbra Streisand
- James Taylor
Two days before his birthday in 1998, Clinton addressed the nation. What was the topic?
- Welfare reform
- Midterm elections
- Relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his admissions during grand jury testimony under oath
- Bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa