Official: Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness low
BEIJING — In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to get a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses abroad while trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made using the previously experimental messenger RNA, or mRNA, process.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
Officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official said developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines.
Gao did not respond to a phone call requesting further comment.
“The mRNA vaccines developed in our country have also entered the clinical trial stage,” said the official, Wang Huaqing. He gave no timeline for possible use.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the traditional AstraZeneca vaccine.
The coronavirus pandemic, which began in central China in late 2019, marks the first time the Chinese drug industry has played a role in responding to a global health emergency.
Vaccines made by Sinovac, a private company, and Sinopharm, a state-owned firm, have made up the majority of Chinese vaccines distributed to several dozen countries including Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey.
The effectiveness of a Sinovac vaccine at preventing symptomatic infections was found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil, near the 50% threshold at which health experts say a vaccine is useful. By comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been found to be 97% effective.
Health experts say Chinese vaccines are unlikely to be sold to the United States, Western Europe and Japan due to the complexity of the approval process.
A Sinovac spokesman, Liu Peicheng, acknowledged varying levels of effectiveness have been found but said that can be due to the age of people in a study, the strain of virus and other factors.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China.
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but cited mRNA as a possibility.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously questioned the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
As of April 2, some 34 million people in China have received both of the two doses required for Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
The Sinovac spokesman, Liu, said studies find protection “may be better” if time between vaccinations is longer than the current 14 days but gave no indication that might be made standard practice.
Some GOP-led states target abortions done through medication
About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are now done through medication – rather than surgery – and that option has become all the more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abortion rights advocates say the pandemic has demonstrated the value of medical care provided virtually, including the privacy and convenience of abortions taking place in a woman’s home, instead of a clinic. Abortion opponents, worried the method will become increasingly prevalent, are pushing legislation in several Republican-led states to restrict it and in some cases, ban providers from prescribing abortion medication via telemedicine.
Ohio enacted a ban this year, proposing felony charges for doctors who violate it. The law was set to take effect next week, but a judge has temporarily blocked it in response to a Planned Parenthood lawsuit.
In Montana, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte is expected to sign a ban on telemedicine abortions. The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Sharon Greef, has called medication abortions “the Wild West of the abortion industry” and says the drugs should be taken under close supervision of medical professionals, “not as part of a do-it-yourself abortion far from a clinic or hospital.”
Opponents of the bans say telemedicine abortions are safe, and outlawing them would have a disproportionate effect on rural residents who face long drives to the nearest abortion clinic.
“When we look at what state legislatures are doing, it becomes clear there’s no medical basis for these restrictions,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy with the Center for Reproductive Rights. “They’re only meant to make it more difficult to access this incredibly safe medication and sow doubt into the relationship between patients and providers.”
Other legislation has sought to outlaw delivery of abortion pills by mail, shorten the 10-week window in which the method is allowed, and require doctors to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions that the process can be reversed midway through – a claim that critics say is not backed by science.
It’s part of a broader wave of anti-abortion measures numerous states are considering this year, including some that would ban nearly all abortions. The bills’ supporters hope the U.S. Supreme Court, now with a 6-3 conservative majority, might be open to overturning or weakening the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established the nationwide right to end pregnancies.
Legislation targeting medication abortion was inspired in part by developments during the pandemic, when the Food and Drug Administration – under federal court order – eased restrictions on abortion pills so they could be sent by mail. A requirement for women to pick them up in person is back, but abortion opponents worry the Biden administration will end those restrictions permanently. Abortion-rights groups are urging that step.
With the rules lifted in December, Planned Parenthood in the St. Louis region would mail pills for telemedicine abortions overseen by its health center in Fairview Heights, Illinois.
A single mother from Cairo, Illinois, more than a two-hour drive from the clinic, chose that option. She learned she was pregnant just a few months after giving birth to her second child.
“It wouldn’t have been a good situation to bring another child into the world,” said the 32-year-old woman, who spoke on the condition her name not be used to protect her family’s privacy.
“The fact that I could do it in the comfort of my own home was a good feeling,” she added.
She was relieved to avoid a lengthy trip and grateful for the clinic employee who talked her through the procedure.
“I didn’t feel alone,” she said. “I felt safe.”
Medication abortion has been available in the United States since 2000, when the FDA approved the use of mifepristone. Taken with misoprostol, it constitutes the so-called abortion pill.
The method’s popularity has grown steadily. The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, estimates that it accounts for about 40% of all abortions in the U.S. and 60% of those taking place up to 10 weeks’ gestation.
“Beyond its exceptionally safe and effective track record, what makes medication abortion so significant is how convenient and private it can be,” said Megan Donovan, Guttmacher’s senior policy manager. “That’s exactly why it is still subject to onerous restrictions.”
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, says medication abortions account for a quarter of the abortions it provides. Of its 1,558 medication abortions in the past year, only 9% were done via telemedicine, but the organization’s president, Kersha Deibel, said that option is important for many economically disadvantaged women and those in rural areas.
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, countered that “no woman deserves to be subjected to the gruesome process of a chemical abortion potentially hours away from the physician who prescribed her the drugs. ”
In Montana, where Planned Parenthood operates five of the state’s seven abortion clinics, 75% of abortions are done through medication – a huge change from 10 years ago.
Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, says the pandemic – which increased reliance on telemedicine – has contributed to the rise in the proportion of medication abortions.
In the vast state, home to rural communities and seven Native American reservations, many women live more than a five-hour drive from the nearest abortion clinic. For them, access to telemedicine can be significant.
Greef, who sponsored the ban on telemedicine abortions, said the measure would ensure providers can watch for signs of domestic abuse or sex trafficking as they care for patients in person.
Yet advocates of the telemedicine method say patients are grateful for the convenience and privacy.
“Some are in a bad relationship or victim of domestic violence,” said Christina Theriault, a nurse practitioner for Maine Family Planning who can perform abortions under state law. “With telemedicine, they can do it without their partner knowing. There’s a lot of relief from them.”
The group has health centers in far northern Maine where women can get abortion pills and take them at home under the supervision of health providers communicating by phone or videoconferencing. It spares women a drive of three to four hours to the nearest abortion clinic in Bangor, Theriault said.
Maine Family Planning is among a small group of providers participating in an FDA-approved research program allowing women to receive the abortion pill by mail after video consultations. Under the program, the Maine group also can mail pills to women in New York and Massachusetts.
Las Vegas pushes to become first to ban ornamental grass
LAS VEGAS — A desert city built on a reputation for excess and indulgence wants to become a model for restraint and conservation with a first-in-the-nation policy banning grass that nobody walks on.
Las Vegas-area water officials have spent two decades trying to get people to replace thirsty greenery with desert plants, and now they’re asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw roughly 40% of the turf that’s left.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates there are almost 8 square miles (21 square kilometers) of “nonfunctional turf” in the metro area – grass that no one ever walks on or otherwise uses in street medians, housing developments and office parks.
They say this ornamental grass requires four times as much water as drought-tolerant landscaping like cactus and other succulents. By ripping it out, they estimate the region can reduce annual water consumption by roughly 15% and save about 14 gallons (53 liters) per person per day.
Las Vegas might be known for splashy displays like the Bellagio fountains on the neon-lit Strip, but officials say residents of bedroom communities and sprawling suburbs embrace conservation measures, including aggressive monitoring of sprinklers and leaky irrigation systems.
“The public perception outside of Las Vegas is certainly much different – and has been for a long time – than the water conservation ethic within the community,” said Colby Pellegrino, Southern Nevada Water Authority water resources director.
California imposed a temporary ban on watering ornamental grass during last decade’s drought, but no state or major city has tried to phase out certain categories of grass permanently.
“The scale of this is pretty unprecedented in terms of a full ban on this nonfunctional turf,” said John Berggren, a water policy analyst at Western Resource Advocates.
The proposal is part of a turf war waged since at least 2003, when the water authority banned developers from planting green front yards in new subdivisions. It also offers owners of older properties the region’s most generous rebate policies to tear out sod – up to $3 per square foot.
Those efforts are slowing. The agency says the number of acres converted under its rebate program fell last year to six times less than what it was in 2008. Meanwhile, water consumption in southern Nevada has increased 9% since 2019.
Last year was among the driest in the region’s history, when Las Vegas went a record 240 days without measurable rainfall. And the future flow of the Colorado River, which accounts for 90% of southern Nevada’s water, is in question.
The waterway supplies Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming and Mexico. As drought and climate change decrease what the river provides, the amount allocated to Arizona, California and Nevada is projected to be cut further.
Justin Jones, a Clark County commissioner who serves on the water authority’s board, doesn’t think ripping out ornamental turf will upend people’s lives.
“To be clear, we are not coming after your average homeowner’s backyard,” he said. But grass in the middle of a parkway, where no one walks: “That’s dumb.”
“The only people that ever set foot on grass that’s in the middle of a roadway system are people cutting the grass,” Jones said.
The agency has different regulations for yards and public parks. Based on satellite imaging, it believes banning ornamental grass will primarily affect common areas maintained by homeowner associations and commercial property owners.
Jones said the proposal has drawn resistance in some master-planned communities, but water officials say years of drought-awareness campaigns and policies like the rebates have cultivated a cultural change.
Southern Nevada Homebuilders’ Association lobbyist Matt Walker said consumer preferences have reached the point that potential homebuyers from wetter regions aren’t turned off from neighborhoods that have parks but no ornamental grass.
Conservation frees water, reduces per capita consumption and strengthens builders’ arguments that the desert can accommodate more growth, Walker said. “And the benefits are the ability to keep doing what we do, which is building homes.”
“We’ve really gotten a comfort level that buyers are very much willing to go along with responsible development practices when it comes to water use,” he added.
Other desert cities aren’t so sure. Salt Lake City has an ordinance that requires a certain amount of yard and median greenery. Phoenix, where some neighborhoods remain lush from flood irrigation, has never offered grass removal rebates.
Water officials elsewhere are loath to compare their policies to southern Nevada. Particularly in cities where water consumption per person is high, they say there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for a drier future.
Las Vegas, for example, mostly ignores toilets, showers and dishwashers because the water authority is able to treat and recycle indoor wastewater and let it flow through a natural wash into Lake Mead – the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam. It is filtered again for reuse.
A draconian anti-grass policy might not work in downtown Phoenix, said Cynthia Campbell, water resources adviser for the nation’s fifth-largest city. Trees and grass blunt public health dangers of ” urban heat islands ” – areas lacking green landscaping to offset heat through evaporative cooling.
Regional water officials understand future consumption will have to be reduced but fear the preparation and perception could backfire if the community doesn’t buy in.
“There comes a point when people’s demands start to harden,” Campbell said. “They’ll say, ‘This is the point of no return for me.’ For some people, it’s a pool. For some people, it’s grass.”
The Southern Nevada Water Authority isn’t sure the idea of banning grass will spread to other cities. But Pellegrino, the water resources chief, said other places will have to make changes.
“Particularly every community that relies on Colorado River water.”
Business faces tricky path navigating post-Trump politics
WASHINGTON — For more than a half-century, the voice emerging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s monolithic, Beaux Arts-styled building near the White House was predictable: It was the embodiment of American business and, more specifically, a shared set of interests with the Republican Party.
The party’s bond with corporate America, however, is fraying.
Fissures have burst open over the GOP’s embrace of conspiracy theories and rejection of mainstream climate science, as well as its dismissal of the 2020 election outcome. The most recent flashpoint was in Georgia, where a new Republican-backed law restricting voting rights drew harsh criticism from Delta Air Lines and Coca Cola, whose headquarters are in the state, and resulted in Major League Baseball pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta.
Republicans were furious. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky warned that their actions were “quite stupid,” alienating “a lot of Republican fans.” GOP strategists argued that they no longer needed corporate America’s money to win elections as they try to rebrand as a party of blue-collar workers.
That extends an opportunity to President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats to find an ally in an unlikely place when the party has unified control of the federal government for the first time in a decade. Biden is pushing an ambitious $2.3 trillion infrastructure package that includes corporate tax increases – which the White House is characterizing to CEOs as upfront investments that will ultimately make companies more profitable.
“It’s important for making the country more competitive,” said Cedric Richmond, the White House’s director of public engagement. “We think the plan is so important to the country that we are advocating and singing its praises to all businesses.”
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo estimates she has talked to more than 50 business leaders about the plan, including a round of Easter weekend phone calls. She is encouraging companies to focus on the entire package instead of the tax increases.
“You can’t look at one piece of it and say that one number makes you walk away,” she said. “They say, ‘That’s fair. Let me think about it.’ That’s how they run their businesses.”
Whether the corporate split with the GOP widens could help answer questions about the political direction of the country and the extent to which business can continue to influence Washington.
“Nobody in the business community wants hostile communities, angry finger-pointing workforces and turbulent shareholder bases,” said Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, a senior associate dean at the Yale School of Management. “It makes your job so much harder to have every constituency group at war within themselves, which has become the hallmark of the GOP.”
Corporate America’s marriage with Republicans has long been one of convenience, united by a belief in low taxes and the need to repeal regulations. But the relationship, already strained during Donald Trump’s presidency, has come under increasing pressure as companies take cultural stands.
That Republicans and businesses report to increasingly distinct constituencies helps explain the tension.
A solid majority of Republican voters are white (86%) and older than 50 (62%), according to APVoteCast, a national survey of the 2020 electorate. Yet figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that workers are more racially diverse and younger than the Republican base.
James Bailey, a management professor at George Washington University, published an analysis last year that suggested people who identified as Democrats cared more about a company’s political activity than Republicans do. Of business people, he said the uproar over the Georgia voting law “is a great opportunity for them to get on board with the young socially active consumer and to do so without much cost.”
Just as important, Democratic counties have become the primary engines for growth. The counties that backed Biden last year account for 71% of all U.S. economic activity, according to the Brookings Institution.
Democrats say business are comfortable partnering with them to address longstanding issues such as infrastructure after a decade of congressional gridlock, even though companies dislike the possibility of footing the bill.
“Responsible corporate leaders want economic growth and predictable, competent policy- that’s what Democrats are offering.” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, who is running the House Democrats’ campaign arm for the 2022 midterm elections.
Many Republicans are exasperated by business’s efforts to woo consumers through liberal social politics.
“They are never going to satisfy the demands of the left,” said Steven Law, a former attorney for the Chamber who now runs Senate Leadership Fund, a big-spending outside group aligned with McConnell. Meantime “they risk alienating their natural allies in the Republican Party.”
Still, Republicans have been a major driver of the rift, looking to capitalize on the culture clash to turn out the party base in the next election. Early indicators suggest business could face blowback.
Georgia’s Republican-controlled House voted to strip Delta of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars annually for its criticism of the new restrictive law, which voting rights groups have excoriated as an attack on democracy. The intended punishment was rendered moot after the GOP Senate failed to take it up before the legislative session adjourned.
Campaign finance disclosures suggest corporate America’s money doesn’t buy as much influence as it once did.
Roughly a decade ago, donations from company-sponsored political action committees accounted for an important share of the fundraising pie. But it’s stagnated as a source of campaign cash, as court rulings enabled wealthy GOP activists to pour money into the political system.
Just 10 GOP megadonors account for half of the giving to major super political action committees controlled by Republican congressional leaders since 2012, collectively pouring $541 million into the committees, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of donors who gave over $1,000. The megadonors also contributed twice as much as conventional PACs and other groups that represent a broad swath of corporate interests.
Political spending by the Chamber has also dropped precipitously. After spending $29 million in 2016, mostly supporting Republicans and attacking Democrats, the group’s contributions dropped to $10.9 million in 2018, according to data from nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. In 2020, the group endorsed 23 Democrats, which Republicans saw as a betrayal.
That’s diminished the group’s once unassailable standing with GOP congressional leaders.
“There is absolutely no love lost for corporations, especially when they consistently weigh in on things they don’t understand,” said Josh Holmes, a political adviser to McConnell. “There’s no sympathy.”
Common ground still exists between Republicans and business on the value of tax cuts. The Chamber and the Business Roundtable oppose raising the corporate rate to 28% from the 21% level set in 2017, as well as an enhanced global minimum tax. Yet both groups want government spending on infrastructure.
Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s chief policy officer, said the broader business community isn’t fully aligned with either party. But the hyperpartisan nature of today’s politics is creating pressure to choose one side.
“It really causes people to want to sort everything into a red camp or a blue camp,” he said. “Businesses aren’t partisan. They aren’t Republicans or Democrats. They have to operate and function in divided governments, operate in states that are solid blue and solid red.”
Republicans caution, however, that business faces considerable risk weighing in on hot-button disputes.
“They ought to tread carefully because they risk getting into the middle of a culture war that will earn them no friends and a lot of enemies,” said Law, the McConnell ally.
Biden sees ‘win’ for U.S. in electric vehicle battery deal
WASHINGTON — Two big South Korean electric vehicle battery makers said Sunday they have settled a long-running trade dispute that will allow one company to move ahead with plans to manufacture batteries in Georgia. President Joe Biden called it “a win for American workers and the American auto industry.”
The agreement between LG Energy Solution and SK Innovation ended the need for Biden to intervene in a case closely watched for its implications on Biden’s clean-energy agenda, which includes a sharp increase in the number of electric vehicles as part of his plan to address climate change. Biden had until Sunday night to make a decision, following a ruling in February by a trade commission.
The companies said in a joint statement that SK will provide LG Energy with a total of $1.8 billion and an undisclosed royalty. They agreed to withdraw all pending trade disputes in the United States and South Korea and not assert new claims for 10 years.
“We have decided to settle and to compete in an amicable way, all for the future of the U.S. and South Korean electric vehicle battery industries,” said Jun Kim, CEO and president of SK, and Jong Hyun Kim, CEO and president of LG Energy.
The companies pledged to work together to strengthen the EV battery supply chain in the U.S. and support the Biden administration’s efforts to advance clean energy policies, including electric vehicles.
The U.S. International Trade Commission had decided in February that SK stole 22 trade secrets from LG Energy, and that SK should be barred from importing, making or selling batteries in the United States for 10 years.
The decision could have left Ford and Volkswagen scrambling for batteries as they both roll out additional electric vehicle models, a priority for the companies and for the Biden administration. SK has contracts to make batteries for an electric Ford F-150 pickup truck and an electric Volkswagen SUV.
The commission said SK could supply batteries to Ford Motor Co. for four years and to Volkswagen AG for two years. The decision had jeopardized a $2.6 billion battery factory that SK is building in Commerce, Georgia.
Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who at Biden’s request had jump-started negotiations between two companies, said the settlement “has saved the battery plant in Commerce, Georgia, ensuring thousands of jobs, billions in future investment, and that Georgia will be a leader in electric vehicle battery production for years to come.”
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the deal “builds confidence” in the reliability and responsibility of the two companies as suppliers to the U.S. auto industry. The agreement puts the U.S. “in a stronger position to drive innovation and … clean energy technology while also respecting the rights of technology innovators at the heart of trade and manufacturing policy,” Tai said.
Added Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.: “The best way to protect workers in Commerce – and the jobs Georgians were promised – is for the companies involved to negotiate a settlement in good faith,.” He said he raised the battery issue with Biden during the president’s March 19 visit to Atlanta.
Biden said in a statement that building electric vehicles and the batteries needed for them is an important part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
“We need a strong, diversified and resilient U.S.-based electric vehicle battery supply chain, so we can supply the growing global demand for these vehicles and components – creating good-paying jobs here at home, and laying the groundwork for the jobs of tomorrow. Today’s settlement is a positive step in that direction,” Biden said.
Gov. Brian Kemp, R-Ga., called the settlement “fantastic news for northeast Georgia and our state’s growing electric vehicle industry.”
Ford, in a statement, said the deal “allows us to focus on delivering a range of Ford world-class battery electric vehicles for our retail and fleet customers, while also supporting American workers, the economy and our shared goal of protecting the planet.”
Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Guidehouse Insights, said a settlement was always the most likely outcome. Demand for electric vehicles is projected to rise dramatically by 2035, and other companies will start making them in the U.S. to meet that demand, he said.
Switching the U.S. fleet of roughly 279 million largely gas-powered cars and trucks to electric vehicles is a focus of Biden’s infrastructure plan, with $174 billion allocated for EV incentives, a half-million charging stations and development of a domestic supply chain. Experts say it’s possible the U.S. will run short of electric vehicle batteries if it doesn’t set up its own network of parts suppliers.
“We don’t have nearly enough (existing) battery production capacity to meet the kind of volumes that companies are talking about producing,” Abuelsamid said.
Trump attracted scores of new donors. Will they give to other Republicans now?
WASHINGTON – As former President Donald Trump prepares to make his first appearance in front of a group of the GOP’s top donors since leaving office, some Republican officials and fundraisers fear that his own political group will cannibalize a significant portion of the party’s financial base heading into a critical midterm election cycle.
Over the course of two campaigns, Trump built up a loyal army of small-dollar donors, whom the former president is now encouraging to contribute to the political action committee he formed shortly after his 2020 election defeat, as he seeks to reestablish himself as the leader of the Republican Party and potentially set himself up for another White House run.
While Republicans are pleased that Trump agreed to speak at the Republican National Committee’s spring donor retreat this weekend – partly taking place at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida – some are wary the former president will ultimately do the party’s fundraising efforts more harm than good as they try to take control of the U.S. House and Senate in the next election.
“I readily acknowledge the former president will continue to have a strong fundraising base for himself,” said Bill Palatucci, an RNC member from New Jersey. “It remains to be seen if he’s willing to share it or not.”
It’s not unusual for a politician to create a PAC to raise money and support like-minded candidates running for office. But as a former president with a devoted following, Trump is poised to play an outsize role.
Trump’s group, Save America PAC, currently has more than $85 million on hand, according to a source familiar with its fundraising. At least $30.4 million of that was the result of a transfer of funds Trump made from one of his 2020 campaign committees late last year. By comparison, the RNC entered 2021 with $80.5 million in its main account. The source also said Trump is still in the process of setting up a super PAC, which unlike traditional PACs can raise unlimited sums of cash.
Longtime Republican donors are viewing Trump’s new political operation skeptically, worried he will use it to advance his own brand rather than the broader interests of the party heading into an election cycle where Democrats are defending slim majorities in Congress.
Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of the Idaho-based health products company Melaleuca, said he supported some of the former president’s policies, but not his tactics.
“The version of America I believe in is against bullying. And our country was led by a bully and I think it’s done a lot of damage,” said VanderSloot, a major Republican donor. “That’s not the kind of leader any of us should be following.”
Asked if he thought Trump’s group would hinder the fundraising efforts of other Republican organizations, VanderSloot responded, “Clearly. I think that anybody would have to assume that, yes.”
Stanley Hubbard, the CEO of the Minnesota-based Hubbard Broadcasting and a major GOP donor, said his main goal will be electing more Republicans to Congress in 2022, though he hasn’t decided which groups to back yet.
“It will probably be good for his ego,” Hubbard said of Trump’s group. “I would have to hear about who it’s for, who’s managing it, what other Republicans think of it.”
Two of Trump’s joint fundraising committees – which raised money for his own campaign, the RNC and state parties – were a major source of cash for the RNC over the past five years. Since Trump became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in May 2016, those two committees transferred more than $300 million to the RNC, accounting for roughly 1 in 5 dollars raised by the RNC in that time period. That includes a $6.8 million transfer to the RNC this year.
But Trump’s post-presidency relationship with major GOP groups has otherwise been off to a contentious start. Last month, his attorneys sent cease-and-desist letters to the RNC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee in an attempt to prevent them from using his image in fundraising appeals. All three committees brushed off the letters.
Trump also released a statement urging his supporters to give money directly to his organization rather than “RINOs,” or Republicans In Name Only, though he clarified soon after, saying, “I fully support the Republican Party and important GOP Committees.”
The three main Republican committees have all included Trump in online ads this week, according to Facebook’s Ad Library, a sign of the former president’s continuing appeal to small-dollar donors.
“The RNC and President Trump are focused on the same goal – retaking our Congressional majorities in 2022,” RNC spokesman Tommy Pigott wrote in an email. “There is much more that unites our Party than divides it, and together we will work to expose Democrats’ bad policies and elect Republicans up and down the ballot.”
Even if Trump and the GOP groups have patched up their differences for now, there are looming fights down the road. Trump has vowed to seek vengeance against the Republicans who voted against him during the impeachment proceedings that were spurred by the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Trump has already endorsed one of his former aides, Max Miller, who is challenging Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment. If Trump continues to wade into GOP primaries, that would put him further at odds with Republican congressional leaders, who traditionally support incumbents in their reelection battles.
Morton Blackwell, a longtime RNC member from Virginia, said he understood why some Republicans were concerned about the former president competing with other members of the party for funds. But he argued that the Trump and GOP groups would see there is more for everyone to gain by cooperating, even if their interests don’t always directly align.
“Anybody with good sense would see a working relationship would benefit both, and that an adversarial relationship would hurt both,” Blackwell said.
Food insecurity a problem within the U.S. military. ‘It’s a bit of a touchy subject’
Military families are increasingly turning to food banks as they struggle to put food on the table.
According to a 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families, 14% of active-duty service members reported experiencing food insecurity.
Thurston County Food Bank executive director Robert Coit told The News Tribune about 8 percent of the food bank’s clients, about 1,500 families, identify as military households. Coit added that many families choose not to disclose that information.
During an interview with CBS News in March, Desiree Alvarez, whose husband is a private at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said that during the COVID-19 pandemic she has had to consistently rely on the food bank to feed her family.
“We couldn’t go a full week without having to go get help from a food pantry,” Alvarez told CBS. “These kids are worth it, like, our family is worth it. We’re worth getting the help that we need.”
At a March town hall on military hunger, Sue Potter, the executive director of Nourish Pierce County, said the most vulnerable families tend to be those living off-base because their wages aren’t able to cover the high cost of living.
“It’s a bit of a touchy subject,” Potter said during the virtual town hall, held by Food Lifeline, a branch of Feeding America. “The enlisted folks don’t want to admit they have an issue, and the folks in command don’t want to recognize that their soldiers are struggling with something as basic as food. ”
On JBLM, the Directorate of Personnel and Family Readiness (DPFR) offers assistance to families who are struggling, including financial counseling. Alecia Grady, the director of the program, said DPFR usually directs service members to Army Emergency Relief or the Air Force Aid Society, both of which provide families with no-interest loans or grants to cover food assistance, rent or vehicle repairs.
“That happens often, especially with our lower ranks,” Grady said. “They’re not making a lot of money, and we’re in a high cost of living area.”
According to a report from the Military Family Advisory Network, one in eight military families report being food insecure. Military families in Washington reported the fifth highest frequency of food insecurity.
About 23,000 military families use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, according to a 2016 study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides food assistance to 38 million Americans annually, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. However, many military families don’t qualify for SNAP because of the way their income is counted. For instance, service members that live in private off- or on-base housing receive a housing allowance which the SNAP program considers as a form of income.
Some surveys suggest that the issue comes down to the fact that unemployment among military spouses is drastically higher than the national average. According to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey from Blue Star Families, 20% of enlisted spouses who are unemployed reported experiencing food insecurity compared to 10% of spouses are have full or part-time employment.
The Department of Defense estimates the jobless rate for military spouses is 22%, but other estimates put the rate closer to 35%.
“What people often don’t understand is that military families move about every two-and-a-half years,” said Shannon Razsadin, executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network. “That means looking for a new job, finding new childcare, new schools and a new home. When you move to a place with limited housing options or limited employment options it can create additional problems for military families.”
At the Food Lifeline virtual town hall on military hunger in March, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said there’s been an increasing focus on the “totality of service members’ needs,” but one of the problems is access to information.
“I’ve heard statistics from when I first ran for Congress about how many service members are below the poverty line, how many are having to access assistance programs, but we don’t really know what the numbers are or who they are,” Smith said. “I think we need, and I’m going to work this year to try to get, provisions in the defense bill to keep track of that data, not only so that we can know, but so we can get them the economic assistance they need to make ends meet.”
The $700 billion defense bill for 2021 was passed Jan. 1 with the first and only veto-override of the Trump administration. But the battle over the fiscal year 2022 budget has already begun. In March, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee asked the Biden administration to consider a 3 to 5 percent spending increase in this years bill, and last week, a group of 50 House Democrats asked for “significant” cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.
The official spending request from the Pentagon is not expected to be filed until May.
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