WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he saw no need to ease tough U.S. sanctions on Iran or other nations that have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has urged world leaders to back off such crippling economic penalties to ensure that people in those targeted countries have access to food, medicine and other vital supplies as they confront the pandemic.
“This is the time for solidarity not exclusion,” Guterres said last week.
Pompeo has overseen the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, implementing a series of escalating sanctions aimed at crippling Tehran’s economy and weakening its leaders.
Iran is reeling from the coronavirus outbreak, with more than 40,000 reported infections and nearly 3,000 reported deaths. Skeptics say those figures are misleadingly low, fearing a much more widespread crisis.
Pompeo noted that U.S. sanctions include exemptions for humanitarian goods, and he argued that Iran, Venezuela and other countries should be able to get anything they need to address the pandemic.
“The goods that are needed for each of these countries to resolve that coronavirus problem in their nations are not sanctioned,” Pompeo said during a State Department briefing Tuesday.
Pompeo said the Trump administration has offered humanitarian aid to Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela, among other sanctioned countries, but that assistance has been rejected.
“Some of these countries continue to build bombs and missiles and nuclear capability, all the while their people are starving,” he said.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Pompeo: State Department official dies from coronavirus
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that a State Department official has died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. He did not identify the individual or provide details of the person’s rank within the agency.
“We’ve had a State Department official pass away as a result of this virus … one of our team members,” Pompeo said during a briefing Tuesday. “We now have 3,000 Americans who have been killed. This is tragic.”
The State Department’s 75,000-workforce – deployed in more than 200 locations across the globe – has been deeply affected by the pandemic. In January, the agency began evacuating diplomats from the U.S. consulate in Wuhan, China, the outbreak’s initial epicenter, and authorized departures have continued from other hotspots.
“Really there aren’t any posts that are immune to the spread of coronavirus,” Dr. William Walters, the agency’s deputy chief medical officer for operations, told reporters during a Monday briefing.
Walters said there are about 75 known cases among State Department employees working abroad and about 30 cases among the agency’s U.S.-based workforce.
– Deirdre Shesgreen
Rep. Max Rose to deploy for National Guard to help NY coronavirus response
Freshman Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., will deploy Wednesday for the National Guard to help his state’s coronavirus efforts.
He will deploy to Staten Island and serve as an operations officer. Rose, a Purple Heart recipient who served in Afghanistan, said he would be able to leave his post to vote on another coronavirus package if needed. Rose represents Staten Island, New York City’s southernmost borough.
“My activation and deployment is nothing compared to what our city, state, and country has asked of all them. And it’s certainly nothing compared to the other men and women serving in uniform both here at home and overseas,” Rose said. “I am just trying to do my duty and my small part.”
New York has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. and on Monday, a Navy hospital ship arrived in Manhattan’s harbor to help treat the thousands who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
– Christal Hayes
Pelosi says US needs to institute vote-by-mail
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Tuesday that the coronavirus outbreak will likely require the country to move toward voting by mail in upcoming elections.
Pelosi said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” she thought the $2 trillion CARES Act signed into law last week by President Donald Trump should have had more funding for the states to address “the reality of life that we are going to have to have more vote by mail.” The final bill allocated $400 million toward helping states vote during the outbreak, while the Democratic version of the legislation included $4 billion for that purpose.
President Donald Trump criticized the effort to include funding for elections in the bill during a Fox News interview on Monday.
“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things – levels of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” the president said on “Fox & Friends.”
“I feel sad that the President doesn’t have confidence in his own party,” Pelosi said Tuesday. She said she did not think vote by mail would negatively affect Republicans’ chances to the polls.
– William Cummings
McConnell: impeachment diverted attention away from coronavirus
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added his name Tuesday to the list of people who blamed the slow response to the coronavirus on President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
The Senate impeachment trial – which began with the swearing-in of senators on Jan. 16 and ended with Trump’s acquittal on Feb. 5 – “diverted the attention of the government,” McConnell told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
Trump critics have described the impeachment argument – one employed by many Trump supporters in recent weeks – as an excuse.
Trump, they noted, began taking questions about coronavirus in January and downplayed the threat until late February, well after the trial ended.
Trump supporters like Sean Hannity have long claimed that impeachment diverted the government’s attention from issues like the coronavirus.
Also on the Hewitt show Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said: “I have to tell you that in mid-January and late-January, unfortunately, Washington, especially the Congress, was consumed with another matter – you may recall the partisan impeachment of the President.”
On Feb. 27, Trump said during a speech at the White House that the virus was “going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” He then said, “you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”
Three weeks before, the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump of House impeachment charges that he abused power and obstructed a congressional investigation into his team’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Democratic political opponent Joe Biden.
– David Jackson
GOP Maryland governor: Trump’s testing claims ‘not true’
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday on NPR’s Morning Edition that President Donald Trump was incorrect in saying coronavirus testing problems had been resolved.
“Yeah, that’s just not true. I mean I know that they’ve taken some steps to create new tests, but they’re not actually produced and distributed out to the states.” Hogan said, when host Rachel Martin asked him about Trump’s assertions. “No state has enough testing.”
In a coronavirus task force briefing yesterday, Trump said America’s coronavirus testing was better “than any country in the world.”
The Maryland Republican said he was listening to the “smart team” in the White House like Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci who were giving accurate information.
Hogan, who issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Monday, had a grim outlook for states’ pandemic preparedness.
“There’s nobody in America that’s prepared,” he said.
– Nicholas Wu
Pelosi: she and Congress do not take responsibility for slow coronavirus response
In a Tuesday morning interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she and Congress do not take responsibility for the country’s slow response to the coronavirus at the beginning of the year.
“No, not at all,” she said Tuesday on MSNBC in response to a question from co-host Willie Geist about whether she or Congress bore responsibility.
Instead, she said she was “proud” of the work Congress did, the “speed” with which coronavirus response bills passed, and the “bipartisanship that was the hallmark of it all.”
“We can only go as fast as the signature,” she said of the White House’s support for legislation.
The House Speaker added that she was “sad” there was “no respect for science” from the White House in the beginning but President Donald Trump “will say and do what he does.”
– Nicholas Wu
Pentagon watchdog to oversee $2 trillion in coronavirus relief funds
Glenn Fine, the inspector general for the Defense Department, was appointed to head the committee that will oversee the largest rescue package in U.S. history.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump last week, provides more than $2 trillion to help stave off the economic IMPACTS caused by the COVID-19 outbreak that has now killed more than 3,000 people in the U.S. and nearly 40,000 people worldwide.
The CARES Act calls for the establishment of a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to oversee the distribution of the funds approved in the massive stimulus bill, as well as the two previous emergency spending bills that were passed to address the outbreak. Fine will head that nine-person committee composed of inspector generals from other departments.
“I look forward to working with my fellow Inspectors General on the Committee to provide effective, independent oversight of the funding provided by the pandemic legislation,” Fine said in a statement on Monday. “Through our efforts, we will seek to promote transparency and ensure that funds are being used consistently with the law’s mandate to respond to this public health crises.”
‘Much of it was junk’:Trump, Pelosi claim credit for beating back bad ideas in coronavirus stimulus
During the contentious debate ahead of the final bill’s passage, the establishment of an oversight committee to prevent waste and abuse was insisted upon by congressional Democrats who were particularly concerned that the nearly $500 billion allocated to help large industries could become a corporate “slush fund.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was pleased with Fine’s appointment.
“The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee is critical to holding President Trump and his administration accountable to the letter and spirit of the law,” Schumer said in a statement. “Glenn Fine has a good reputation as a tough federal prosecutor and former DOJ Inspector General, and must exercise his full oversight authority to ensure that the Trump administration implements the CARES Act as intended.”
– William Cummings
Trump clashes with CNN’s Acosta
President Donald Trump’s rocky relationship with the news media was on display again Monday, as he bristled at questions about his handling of the coronavirus outbreak during a White House news conference.
CNN’s Jim Acosta – with whom Trump has clashed on several occasions, including a 2018 exchange that led to a failed White House effort to revoke Acosta’s press credentials – asked the president, “What do you say to Americans who are upset with you over the way you downplayed this crisis over the last couple of months?”
Acosta proceeded to quote several of Trump’s earlier comments in which he said the outbreak “was very much under control” and that “it will go away” like a “miracle.”
“It will go away. And we’re going to have a great victory,” Trump told Acosta. He went on to defend the accuracy of the previous comments while simultaneously explaining he said them because, “I want to keep the country calm. I don’t want panic in the country.”
“I could cause panic much better than even you. I would make you look like a minor league player,” Trump told Acosta. “Instead of asking a nasty, snarky question like that, you should ask a real question.”
Trump later turned his ire on PBS NewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor, whom he told the previous day to “be nice” and not ask “threatening questions” after she asked about his statement that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was requesting more ventilators than needed.
On Monday, Alcindor asked Trump why the U.S. trailed South Korea in per capita testing for the virus.
“I know South Korea better than anybody,” Trump replied. “You know how many people are in Seoul? You know how big the city of Seoul is?” he asked, trying to explain that the difference was due to population density. Trump then claimed Seoul’s population is 38 million when, according to the city’s government, it is actually about 10 million.
“You should be saying, congratulations to the men and women who have done this job, who have inherited a broken testing system and who have made it great,” Trump said to Alcindor. “And if you don’t say it, I’ll say it. I want to congratulate all of the people, you have done a fantastic job.”
– William Cummings