Covid vaccines mandated for employees of a US federal agency for the first time – live | US news


Clay Higgins, a Republican congressman from Louisiana who has criticised mask mandates and other public health measures during the coronavirus pandemic, has announced that he, his wife and son have contracted Covid-19.

Clay Higgins.

Clay Higgins. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Higgins, who has not said if he has been vaccinated, announced the news on Facebook on Sunday night. He said he and his wife were infected last year.

“This episode is far more challenging,” he wrote. “It has required all my devoted energy. We are all under excellent care and our prognosis is positive.”

In May, Higgins wrote on Facebook: “If you want to get vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you don’t, then don’t. That’s your right as a free American.”

Amid dwindling vaccination rates, Higgins’ state is among those experiencing a fourth surge of Covid cases.

Last December, a 41-year-old Republican congressman-elect from Louisiana, Luke Letlow, died from complications from Covid-19.

Steve Scalise, another Louisiana Republican and as House Minority Whip a key member of party leadership in Washington, said recently that he only got vaccinated this month, because he thought he had immunity because he previously tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.

Last week, the Florida Republican Vern Buchanan announced a positive test. He said he had been fully vaccinated and was experiencing mild symptoms.

Here’s Jessica Glenza on the problem of vaccine hesitancy:

VA will mandate vaccines for frontline health staff

The New York Times reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs will become the first federal agency to mandate vaccinations for employees, in this case 115,000 frontline healthcare workers who look after those who have served in the US military.

The move follows similar by New York City earlier today.

Veterans affairs secretary Denis McDonough, a former White House chief of staff under Barack Obama, told the Times: “I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop.”

At the White House earlier, press secretary Jen Psaki said mandates on vaccinations were a matter for individual companies and communities.

McDonough told the Times he had told the White House about his decision.

EPA revises Trump rule on coal plant river waste

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said it will revise a Donald Trump-era rule that allowed coal-fired power plants to dump certain toxins into rivers and streams.

The EPA said it will draw up a new rule later this year to strengthen wastewater pollution regulations for coal plants that produce electricity. The agency hopes the new rule will be in place by the end of Joe Biden’s first term in office.

Under Trump, the EPA allowed plant operators to avoid or delay installing equipment that ensured toxins such as lead and mercury did not seep into waterways.

The agency will continue to use this weaker standard until the new rule comes into force, which has disappointed green groups that voiced dismay at the barrage of environmental protections rolled back by the former president.

“EPA is committed to science-based policy decisions to protect our natural resources and public health,” said Michael Regan, administrator of the EPA.

Jen Psaki has wrapped the White House briefing for the day, as the press goes off to see Joe Biden and the Iraqi PM. It was a wide-ranging briefing with, as Joanie showed below, a lot of questions about the Delta Covid variant, its surging case numbers and its effects on travel and the US economy.

Jen Psaki.

Jen Psaki. Photograph: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Psaki made a spot of news earlier, as it happens, by telling Snapchat the Biden administration engages with Fox News because its viewers “might” listen to its medical experts about the need to beat Covid.

She was speaking to Good Luck America after a week in which Fox News denied reports it had engaged in high-level discussions with the White House before hosts including Sean Hannity (if not Tucker Carlson) exhorted viewers to get Covid-19 vaccinations.

Asked why any member of the administration should engage, given that Fox News was “only going to lash Democrats”, Psaki referred to primetime hosts such as Hannity and Carlson when she said: “Well first, we don’t do a lot of the personalities on Fox.

“Look, I would say that the president’s No 1 goal still is beating the pandemic, our objective is to put people back to work, and we need to talk to Fox and Fox viewers in order to do that.

“Now, they are not waiting for the president, the vice-president and other people from the administration to tell them what to do.

“But they might have listened to medical experts or some of our doctors. They might. There might be information that strikes them because it’s so fact-based, if we conveyed to Fox that they may hear that.”

Full story:


US will keep travel restrictions in place for now, White House confirms


Trump ally Barrack pleads not guilty

Trump ally Tom Barrack is headed for trial, after pleading not guilty today in court in Brooklyn, New York to charges of illegal lobbying for the United Arab Emirates.

Tom Barrack.

Tom Barrack. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

Barrack, who played a key role in fundraising for Donald Trump’s (much legally troubled) inauguration in 2017, was arrested and bailed (in a $250m deal) last week.

Magistrate judge Sanket Bulsara accepted his plea on seven counts, including secretly lobbying the Trump administration for the UAE between 2016 and 2018. Barrack, 74, also pleaded not guilty to lying to investigators.

Barrack has long been close to Trump. For example, in his book Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff characterised the two men and the financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was later convicted of sex trafficking before killing himself in custody, as a “set of nightlife musketeers” in the 1980s and 1990s.

Here’s more on the case at hand:


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