Dunford withdraws as pick to lead coronavirus oversight commission

Retired Gen. Joseph Dunford, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has withdrawn from consideration to lead a congressional commission tasked with overseeing the Trump administration’s implementation of a $500 billion coronavirus relief fund, according to multiple Capitol Hill sources.

The move leaves the five-member commission without a leader four months after President Donald Trump signed into law the $2 trillion CARES Act, which established the commission. The law tasked Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with agreeing on a chair, and Dunford was the leading candidate and the only name that has emerged so far.

“Ultimately, General Dunford decided his service on the CARES Commission was incompatible with his other commitments,” according to a source familiar with the developments.

The panel’s other four members — Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bharat Ramamurti, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — have been meeting for more than two months and issuing periodic reports despite the absence of a chair.

It’s the latest blow to an entity that has struggled to get up and running, and which was a key feature trumpeted by Democrats and Republicans to emphasize that they intended to keep close watch on the administration’s implementation of the massive economic rescue effort. The $500 billion fund is managed by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve and is intended to shore up businesses, industries and local governments damaged by the impact of the pandemic.

Ramamurti recently went public with his frustrations by the panel’s slow start.

“Congress created the Congressional Oversight Commission 105 days ago. The Commission is responsible for overseeing $500 billion in public money. As of today, the Commission still has no Chair or full-time staff,” he tweeted last week.

“We are doing the best we can,” he added. “The two reports we have issued… contain a lot of useful information, questions, and analysis. But the lack of Chair and staff are serious obstacles to performing robust oversight.”

The $500 billion fund is being used to bolster a group of emergency Fed programs designed to make it easier for households, businesses, financial firms and municipalities to borrow more cheaply. One is targeted at large corporations that borrow money by issuing bonds; a second purchases loans from banks to “Main Street” midsize businesses that are too big for the Paycheck Protection Program; and a third offers loans to state and local governments.

The Fed has begun lending under all three of those programs — the Main Street program officially opened its doors last week — but so far has only used a small portion of the overall funding.

Some of the money was also set aside for Treasury to lend to airlines and other important businesses. The department has announced that 10 different airlines have signed letters of intent to borrow from the government. It’s also giving trucking company YRC, which was deemed “critical to national security,” a $700 million loan in exchange for a 29.6 percent equity stake in the company.

Source: Politico, Dunford withdraws as pick to lead coronavirus oversight commission

Americans agree on police reforms that have divided Washington, new poll shows

Congress couldn’t agree on a bipartisan set of police reforms, but Americans across the political spectrum can.

New polling from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy shows a majority of voters support 10 key policies proposed by competing House and Senate bills that Congress failed to advance last month. With the 2020 election bearing down, lawmakers are not expected to revisit the issue this fall, but a strong national consensus could create a blueprint for congressional action in the years ahead.

The in-depth national survey of more than 3,000 registered voters included a “policymaking simulation,” in which participants were briefed on the policy options before being asked to evaluate arguments for and against the proposals and make a final recommendation.

The most popular proposals among those surveyed included requirements for all police officers to wear body cameras and activate them when responding to a call or interacting with a suspect. Respondents also expressed broad support for a requirement for officers to intervene when another officer is using excessive force, as well as the creation of a national database of police misconduct that all law enforcement agencies would submit information to.

While both the House and Senate bills addressed many of the same issues, most of the proposals the survey asked about were drawn from the House-passed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act because, as the pollsters noted, the Senate’s JUSTICE Act didn’t make many of its measures mandatory. Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the Republican-backed legislation last month after declaring it was “not salvageable” and demanding bipartisan negotiations.

Nearly 90 percent of respondents supported body cameras, including 85 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats. Eighty-two percent of respondents supported the duty to intervene (71 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents and 94 percent of Democrats), and 81 percent favored a national registry of police misconduct (70 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of independents and 92 percent of Democrats).

At least 8 in 10 Democrats supported every proposal surveyed, and a majority of Republicans backed six of them, including a ban on chokeholds and other neck restraints (55 percent), implicit racial bias training (53 percent) and a policy to hire an independent prosecutor to investigate or charge a law enforcement officer for using deadly force (52 percent).

The remaining proposals, which at least 6 in 10 registered voters supported, are de-escalation and use of force as a last resort (69 percent); banning no-knock warrants (65 percent); requiring law enforcement agencies to get approval from local government before requesting military equipment (64 percent); and amending qualified immunity (63 percent).

The survey of 3,226 registered voters was conducted online July 2-9. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Source: Politico, Americans agree on police reforms that have divided Washington, new poll shows

The best blenders of 2020

Smoothies, soups and salsas. Nut butters, milkshakes and margaritas. Puddings, dips and batters. If any of this sounds like the making of the menu of your dreams, a kitchen blender should be at the top of your small appliance wish list.

Source: CNN, The best blenders of 2020

U.S. plans to restrict Mexico, Canada border crossings until late August

The Trump administration is planning to extend restrictions barring non-essential travel across the Mexican and Canadian borders until at least late August as coronavirus cases and deaths continue to spike in the U.S. and Mexico, according to three people familiar with the plans.

The U.S., in separate agreements with Mexico and Canada, will make a formal announcement before July 21 that non-essential travel will be restricted for at least another 30 days, the people said.

“It’s an almost certainty,” a senior administration official told POLITICO.

It will be the fourth time border restrictions have been extended since the partial closure was first announced in March as a measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to comment. The U.S. State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked on Monday if the travel ban on Canada would be extended, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the administration had “no announcements now for our plans with Canada.”

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are still rising rapidly as the nation has seen more than 3.3 million confirmed infections and more than 135,000 deaths. Mexico is experiencing a similar trajectory. On Sunday it overtook Italy as the country with the fourth-highest number of deaths — more than 35,000 — due to the coronavirus and 300,000 confirmed cases, figures widely thought to be underreported.

Canada, however, has largely flattened the epidemic curve in most of the country and faces significantly fewer cases. The U.S.’ northern neighbor has seen a total of 109,000 confirmed cases and almost 9,000 deaths.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said a decision on the partial border closure would be announced “in the coming days.”

“We’re going to continue to work hard to keep Canadians safe and to keep our economies flowing and we will have more to say later this week,” Trudeau said in a Monday morning press conference.

Privately, Mexican officials say the government has not pushed to loosen restrictions or reopen the border because of fears that the U.S. could send more cases to Mexico given the spikes in cases in border states like Arizona and Texas.

The Mexican Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

The existing partial border closure does not affect trade or essential travel, including for health care workers living and working on opposite sides of the border. But it has effectively cut off southern and northern border towns from the vital economic lifeline of Mexicans and Canadians spending money at U.S. restaurants, hotels and retail stores.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of 29 lawmakers urged Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety and emergency preparedness minister, to come up with a plan for slowly reopening the U.S.-Canada border.

“The continual 30-day extensions without a plan for how restrictions will be modified prolongs uncertainty for both communities and creates unnecessary tension as we approach each new expiration,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) wrote in a letter.

Meanwhile, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) has urged the Trump administration to start working on plans to loosen restrictions at the U.S.’ southern border. Cuellar said he has already suggested that the U.S. and Mexico make modifications to the restrictions, such as allowing some tourists to cross and be tested quickly, but was met with resistance from the Trump administration.

“Why do they not just think outside the box? Why not do those quick tests, make sure they’ve got masks, make sure they do temperature checks? There’s a lot of things they can do … but they don’t want to think outside the box,” Cuellar said.

Source: Politico, U.S. plans to restrict Mexico, Canada border crossings until late August