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Lawmakers try to clear up the mixed messaging on masks

MASK OFF With the country experiencing an alarming spike in coronavirus cases, lawmakers and top officials — including some Republicans — are pleading with the public to wear masks, even as President Donald Trump and some GOP lawmakers still refuse to wear one.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who required members to wear face coverings during committee hearings, said a national mask mandate is “long overdue.” “My understanding is that the Centers for Disease Control has recommended the use of masks but not required it because they don’t want to offend the president,” Pelosi said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, directly implored Trump to wear a mask. “It would help if from time to time the president would wear one to help us get rid of this political debate that says if you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask, if you’re against Trump, you do,” Alexander told CNN’s “Inside Politics.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who chairs the House GOP Conference, didn’t call out Trump or anyone by name, but she did tweet out a photo of her dad wearing a mask with the caption: “Dick Cheney says WEAR A MASK. #realmenwearmasks” — the same phrase that Pelosi has been saying as a dig at Trump.

And even Vice President Mike Pence encouraged Texans to wear masks while he was visiting the state, which has seen a significant surge in new cases. “We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas,” Pence said. “Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, especially young people.”

Adding to the growing sense of alarm, HHS Secretary Alex Azar issued a dire warning on Sunday, saying the “window is closing” to contain the spread of the virus. “We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We need to social distance. We need to wear our face coverings if we’re in settings where we can’t social distance, particularly in these hot zones.”

The GOP push for face coverings is just the latest example of Republicans breaking with Trump: GOP lawmakers have also been calling for more coronavirus testing, even while Trump called for testing to “slow” down. “We’ve seen a spike now and we need to be more disciplined than that, maybe we’re not being as careful as we should be,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) told the Wall Street Journal. More from Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren: https://on.wsj.com/2ZifNz0.

Related reads: “Texas Republican on why he won’t wear a mask: If I get coronavirus, ‘I’ll wear it,’” by CNN’s Manu Raju and Clare Foran: https://cnn.it/38cELDV; and “Democrats Are Threatening To Kick Republicans Out Of Future Coronavirus Hearings For Not Wearing Masks,” via BuzzFeed News’ Kadia Goba: https://bit.ly/2VtmY6g.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF RUSSIA REPORT — Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are demanding answers from the Trump administration after a disturbing new report from the New York Times, which claims Russia offered Afghan militants bounties to kill U.S. troops. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called for an investigation into the NYT report, while Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the Senate should vote on new sanctions against Russia.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Congress needs to “get to the bottom” of the situation and called on the White House to take the allegations “seriously.” And Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said he has already reached out to the administration for more information and expects to hear from them “soon.” “If accurate, the Administration must take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable,” McCaul said.

According to the AP, lawmakers may get some answers today: “The Trump administration was set to brief select members of Congress on the matter on Monday,” write Zeke Miller, James LaPorta and Deb Riechmann. Trump, however, has denied that he was briefed on the allegations. More: https://bit.ly/3dJ2XPx.

Related read: “Pelosi on Trump: ‘With him, all roads lead to Putin,’” from Rishika Dugyala: https://politi.co/3dJ3a5h.

TWEET SORROW — After coming under fire from members of his own party, Trump deleted a tweet he shared yesterday that showed one of his supporters riding in a golf cart and yelling “white power.” The White House said Trump “did not hear the one statement made on the video” and that the president simply saw the “tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”

Trump’s reversal came after Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) — the Senate GOP’s lone black Republican, who has been leading the party’s police reform effort — called on the president to delete the tweet, which he deemed “offensive.” “There’s no question he should not have retweeted it, and he should just take it down,” Scott told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But as Oma Seddiq points out, the post on Sunday was just “Trump‘s latest brush with white nationalism, which critics say has been amplified under his presidency because of his inflammatory rhetoric, particularly on Twitter. In the past month Trump and his administration have been under fire for sharing videos, without context, that highlight racist messages and boost instances of a Black person clashing with a white person.” The dispatch: https://politi.co/2VsPmVU.

Stat from the NYT: At the end of 2019, “the president had retweeted at least 145 unverified accounts that had pushed conspiracy, racist or other fringe content, including more than two dozen that were later suspended by Twitter.”

Related read: “After weeks of protests, meaningful police reform appears unlikely,” by CNN’s Josh Campbell: https://cnn.it/2VuftvL.

HAPPY MONDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this June 29.

FRIDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Burgess and Marianne’s story on how the spike in coronavirus cases was rattling Republicans brought home the most clicks.

HICKUPS — NYT’s Carl Hulse with the Kremmling, Colo., dateline: “For months, Democrats have figured that Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, a linchpin of their strategy to take back the majority in November, was essentially in the bag, with the Republican incumbent Cory Gardner trailing by double digits behind their candidate John Hickenlooper, the well-liked and well-known former two-term governor and Denver mayor.

“But Mr. Hickenlooper, who was coaxed into the Senate contest after ending his brief presidential run, has faltered in recent weeks ahead of the primary race on Tuesday. He now finds himself in a tougher-than-expected contest with Andrew Romanoff, a former state House speaker and another longtime Colorado political presence, in a fight with significant implications for the general election and control of the Senate.

“At a time when Democrats sense fresh momentum for flipping the Senate amid national crises that have tarnished President Trump and threaten to drag down Republican candidates, Mr. Hickenlooper’s shaky primary performance has been a rare dark spot in an otherwise brightening landscape. Democrats would have a difficult time capturing the majority without a Centennial State victory.” More: https://nyti.ms/3eJbrqR.

Related read: “3 things to watch in Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah primaries Tuesday,” per Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman and Stephanie Akin: https://bit.ly/3g3Azc8.

THE NEW VAN DREW? — Democrats are racing to take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), who switched parties during impeachment last year. WaPo’s Paul Kane, reporting from South Jersey: “Amy Kennedy is an unlikely heir to a family dynasty that first set foot in Congress in 1947 and has won the White House, sent three men to the Senate and propelled several members into the House. Kennedy, 41, grew up in this Jersey Shore outpost in a family that was politically active only at the municipal level. She spent 10 years as a public school teacher.

“Now, the mother of five is running in a key congressional battleground that has the backdrop of President Trump and a Democratic vendetta to take out a once trusted ally who betrayed them. And, in perhaps the most unusual fashion, she is running as an outsider, trying to establish a new beachhead for one of the most famous families in Democratic politics.” More: https://wapo.st/2Zm5OZk.

Related: “Progressives zero in on another House chairman in primary,” via The Hill’s Naomi Jagoda: https://bit.ly/38mbCGB.

HAWLEY SAYS HOLD ON — In a swipe at top legal conservatives, Sen. Josh Hawley is calling on Trump to overhaul his process for picking Supreme Court nominees. Marianne with the story: “Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said in an interview that the high court’s latest string of left-leaning rulings suggests Trump should reconsider his vow to release a new list of potential Supreme Court nominees by September in his bid to win over socially conservative voters. ‘I don’t love the idea of just doing over what we have been doing in the past,’ Hawley said.

“Trump has made the confirmation of 200 federal judges, including two Supreme Court justices, a significant part of his reelection campaign. But Hawley said religious conservatives right now are ‘very depressed,’ particularly after Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump pick, wrote the decision providing LGBTQ workers with federal workplace protections. The disappointment comes as Trump can’t afford to lose a key part of his base amid fast-sinking polls. And the Supreme Court could deal another blow to conservatives soon in a case centering on a Louisiana anti-abortion law.” The latest: https://politi.co/2YIv9gV.

Related read: “Republicans Play Hardball on Judges. Can Democrats Give It a Shot Too?,” by NYT’s Matt Flegenheimer: https://nyti.ms/2NGK5Wy.

ENGAGED! — Taylor Weeks, senior adviser for NASA legislative affairs, and Clay Armentrout, legislative director and counsel for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), got engaged this weekend on their Annapolis balcony, where he proposed a Champagne toast and got down on one knee. They met through mutual friends in 2018 and plan to marry next year in Houston. PicAnother pic

Josh Jorgensen will be government affairs manager at the National Rural Health Association. He previously was a legislative aide for Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Jordan Davis will be a senior director at Purple Strategies. He most recently was senior adviser for the House Energy and Commerce GOP.

Stefan Smith, the former online engagement director for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, has joined Meek Mill, Jay-Z, and Van Jones’ REFORM Alliance as their first Director of Digital Campaigns.

The House gavels in at 9:00 a.m., with votes expected to occur as early as 2:30 p.m. Today’s agenda: https://bit.ly/3eDZKSq.

The Senate meets at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the motion to proceed to S.4049, the “National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2021.” At 5:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on the motion to proceed to S.4049.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) hold a news conference at 12:30 p.m. in HVC Studio A.

FRIDAY’S WINNER: Joe Gentile was the first person to guess that former Sen. Robert Byrd worked as a shipyard welder during WWII.

TODAY’S QUESTION: From Joe: Which Supreme Court justice portrayed another Supreme Court justice in a movie? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your best guess to [email protected].

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Source: politico.com
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