Ahead of congressional testimony Thursday morning from Rick Bright, the ousted vaccine development chief who claims he was retaliated against for warning the government was slow in responding to the novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump has tweeted that, though he doesn’t know the “so-called Whistleblower,” he sounds like a “disgruntled employee” and “should no longer be working for our government.”
Bright, who was moved from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to the National Institutes of Health, is expected to warn House lawmakers the U.S. will see the “darkest winter in modern history” without a ramped up response to the coronavirus.
Trump’s attack on Bright comes one day after the president publicly rejected the advice of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on how cautious governors and local officials need to be when reopening schools amid the pandemic.
Asked about Fauci’s concerns with reopening the country too soon, Trump said Fauci “wants to play all sides of the equation” and on schools specifically, said he didn’t think Fauci’s response to the topic on Tuesday was “an acceptable answer.”
“They should open the schools, absolutely, I think they should. And it’s had very little impact on young people,” Trump said, although new reports have revealed more cases of children stricken with a potentially fatal syndrome possibly linked to COVID-19.
Fauci, in congressional testimony, did not advise that schools stay closed but said a region’s ability to handle an outbreak should play a part in the decision to reopen them. He also said, “We’ve got to be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.”
Trump on Thursday is also traveling to a medical distribution facility in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, area on Thursday — his second major trip outside Washington in over two months — as he ramps up his push to reopen the country, with an eye on battleground states that could prove key to his re-election.
The president tweeted an attack at Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this week, claiming he was moving “slowly” to reopen for “political purposes,” even as Trump’s own coronavirus task force warns doing so too rapidly could accelerate the spread of the virus.
He repeated his theory on Wednesday in a White House meeting that “some governors and some — perhaps partisans — maybe for election reasons don’t want to have their states open,” as he applauds other states for reopening amid the pandemic.
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Here are Thursday’s most significant developments in Washington:
Bright testifies before House lawmakers
Rick Bright, the ousted director of the federal agency tasked with developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, is expected to warn House lawmakers of the dire consequences the U.S. may face without a ramped up response to the coronavirus.
“Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities,” Bright says in his opening testimony. “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.”
The former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) filed a whistleblower complaint last week alleging he was removed from his post in retaliation for opposing the broad use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug frequently touted by President Trump, though it’s still unproven effective as a coronavirus treatment.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders
Department of Labor: Nearly 3 million jobless claims filed last week
More than 35 million people have filed for unemployment in the last two months, creating a 14.7% unemployment rate, the highest since the Great Depression.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, when asked about Wednesday about concern from Dr. Anthony Fauci that some areas of the country are reopening prematurely, said, “there’s also a risk if we wait too long.”
“Dr. Fauci and I have spent a lot of time together on the task force. We have pretty much daily calls,” Mnuchin told Fox News. ” The president is absolutely concerned about the health of the American public, but there’s also a risk if we wait too long. There is a risk of destroying the U.S. economy and the health impact that that creates.”
Last week alone, nearly 3 million people filed for unemployment insurance, according to a Department of Labor report released Thursday morning.
The unprecedented influx in jobless claims has created a number of issues for those in need of benefits as businesses across the country were forced to close their doors and Americans report ongoing struggles in the unemployment application process.
ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke