Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Elliot Setzer
Friday, March 20, 2020, 3:48 PM

For the second day in a row, China reported no new domestically transmitted cases of the novel coronavirus, reports Reuters. However, mainland China had 39 new imported infections on Thursday, sparking fear of a second wave of infections as the spread of the virus in Europe and North America prompts Chinese expatriates to return to the country.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all 40 million of the state’s residents to remain indoors as much as possible in the coming weeks, citing a model suggesting that more than 25 million Californians could be infected over eight weeks, according to the New York Times. Most retail shops and corporate offices are being ordered shut, though banks, grocery stores, pharmacies, laundromats and some other businesses are exempted.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday introduced a $1 trillion economic stimulus package, proposing direct cash payments of up to $1,200 for taxpayers and $500 billion in loan guarantees for businesses, writes the Wall Street Journal. This third legislative package, designed to mitigate the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, paves the way for meetings with Democrats and the Trump administration today as lawmakers prepare to work through the weekend to reach a deal.

The State Department on Thursday issued a Level 4 travel advisory urging Americans not to travel overseas and to return to the United States if possible, reports Politico.

Senator Richard Burr sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in major companies last month even as Burr and other Republicans continued to play down the threat posed by the novel coronavirus, writes the New York Times. At least three other senators—Dianne Feinstein, James Inhofe and Kelly Loeffler—also sold major holdings around the same time, prior to the stock market’s recent plummet. Senator Burr today asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his stock sales, defending his actions by saying he “relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision,” reports Politico.

A government exercise conducted last year that simulated an influenza pandemic showed that the U.S. was unprepared to confront a virus for which no treatment existed, according to the Times. That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion” and conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, reveals that the Trump administration had already modeled a pandemic similar to the novel coronavirus and understood its potential trajectory.

U.S. jails have begun releasing inmates as cases of COVID-19 are being reported in prisons, writes the BBC. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that city officials will release “vulnerable” prisoners with underlying health problems as well as those arrested for minor crimes. LA County has reduced its inmate population by 600 in the last two weeks, according to officials.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Mark Pocan introduced bicameral legislation on Thursday to send coronavirus testing kits to U.S. troops in the Middle East, reports the Hill.

The Israeli Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction late Thursday to stop the country’s cell phone location tracking program used to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, writes the Washington Post. The court will allow only those who test positive for COVID-19 to be tracked, and ruled that a parliamentary committee would have to endorse this initiative early next week or shut it down entirely. Israel’s Health Ministry had been sending tailored text alerts informing citizens that a digital review of their movements showed they had been in proximity to a person known to have tested positive for coronavirus.

In recent days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahi has shut down the court system and temporarily suspended the activities of parliament in response to the coronavirus, prompting his opponents to accuse him of undermining Israeli democracy in a bid to retain his grip on power and derail a looming criminal trial, reports the Associated Press.

At least 17 Afghan forces were killed in an apparent insider attack at a joint military and police base in southern Zabul province early today, writes the Washington Post. The Defense Ministry claimed the Taliban carried out the attack with the assistance of personnel inside the base.

On Thursday, troops from the U.S.-led coalition pulled out from a base in western Iraq as part of a drawdown agreed with the Iraqi government in 2019, according to the Associated Press.

According to a new government court filing on Monday, a once-accused al-Qaeda sympathizer who was convicted in 2005 of trying to help a terrorist enter the United States has been released and flown to Pakistan, reports the New York Times. His release comes after prosecutors decided not to retry Uzair Paracha, almost two years after a judge said newly discovered evidence called his guilt into question.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared a bonus edition of the Lawfare Podcast, featuring a discussion with Steve Vladeck on presidential emergency powers and the coronavirus.

Nathaniel Persily and Charles Stewart III outlined ten recommendations to ensure a healthy and trustworthy 2020 election.

David A. Martin examined the Refugee Act of 1980 on the 40th anniversary of its being signed into law, discussing the guidance it provides for overcoming today’s global refugee and asylum dysfunction.

Eric Halliday and Rachael Hanna analyzed a federal district judge’s enjoining of the Trump administration’s easing of restrictions on 3-D gun blueprints.

Nathaniel Sobel examined whether ICE’s use of a Maryland facial recognition database is lawful.

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